A week of Driver CPC training

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The classroom was on an industrial estate in Worcester. RICHARD SHARMAN

Driver CPC training was introduced to the UK 11 years ago, but it is still very much a hot topic in the industry. Richard Sharman took part in a week-long course and expresses his thoughts on the subject

10 September 2009 was where it all started: as part of European law, all ‘Professional Drivers’ would have to undertake periodic Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC) training.

Anyone who has worked in the coach or bus industry for many years will know that this Government scheme was very much a bone of contention when it was introduced. Some 11 years on and it is still affecting the industry.

Cause of a driver shortage?
Around the time of DCPC being introduced, I was working in management for a large independent bus operator. Drivers with ‘acquired rights’ had until 10 September 2014 to undertake 39 hours of training. Luckily all our driving staff at that time had ‘acquired rights’ so there was no immediate effect. However, it was explained to all driving staff that they would need to attend training to be able to keep driving professionally.

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It is fair to say that this did not go down well, and I am sure this was the same at coach and bus company offices up and down the country. Whilst drivers in their 30s to 50s were reluctant to undertake DCPC training, much of the older generation was outright annoyed by the situation.

We had a group of drivers that were over 60 years old, many retired or semi-retired, who were covering AM/PM school contracts – something which is very common throughout the industry. Their reaction was one of, ‘I have been driving coaches for 30 years, I don’t need someone to tell me how to do something I have been doing safely for decades.’ This conversation was had multiple times, and the response was always pretty much as above.

I think it would be fair to say that DCPC training is the main reason that the coach and bus industry has lost a large core of flexible, reliable drivers who helped operators cover school contracts throughout the country. Drivers aged 60 or over were also flexible in that they could cover a driver’s break in between schools, or go and do a rail replacement trip – that is like gold to an operator as it provides them with maximum flexibility.

So, ultimately, the industry did go on to lose a number of these semi-retired/retired drivers before that 2014 deadline, and I would argue that loss is still being felt today.

Planning DCPC training

The classroom was well equipped and a comfortable environment to learn in. RICHARD SHARMAN

In more recent years I had been working as a Forward Allocator for a large group, which provided excellent DCPC courses covering several relevant subjects. There was quite an interesting split amongst drivers: some enjoyed having a day away from driving to complete DCPC training, while others found it really hard to sit in a classroom for eight hours. These are people that drive buses for a living because they don’t want to sit in an office for 40 hours a week, they want to be their own boss out on the road.

But it is not only that. Some driving staff get anxiety about these Driver CPC courses, either because they don’t like sitting in a classroom or maybe because they feel they don’t mix well with other members of staff. Having said all that, I also got to speak to drivers after the training, and it is fair to say that the vast majority enjoyed the experience or just got on with it.

Another aspect for operators is that DCPC training requires a vast amount of planning, especially when you consider one large depot may have 300 drivers. So that in itself is a challenge in terms of budget and having the staff to provide cover for drivers on a course that week. In a smaller garage with 130 drivers, eight per day could be in training Monday to Friday when DCPC season is in full swing.

Some drivers had hoped that leaving Europe may put an end to DCPC training in the UK, but it is not going to go away – the UK Government is committed to keeping it mandatory.

Booking a course
For me, it was time to renew my DCPC card and take part in five courses equalling 39 hours of training, which meant a full week away from CBW, but it had to be done. It’s not until you go and start researching the courses available that you realise just how many companies are providing DCPC training. In my mind, I really wanted to go on courses that were specific to the coach and bus industry, but these really are few and far between.

Searching online there were only a handful of companies offering this facility to an individual, the closest to me being Lakeside Coaches. When I say closest, it was still an hour and a half away and over 120 miles to get there and back, which was not an option. Others which stood out to me when researching were Sleafordian Coaches in Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire Bus and Coach Training, both of which were offering some very interesting course options.

But I decided the best way forward was to find the closest DCPC training organisation. A quick search of the local area revealed that the closest was five minutes away and operated by the District Council, but they required £84 per course, which I thought was a bit steep! Of course, the crazy thing about the whole DCPC situation is that I can attend a course that has nothing at all to do with coaches or buses, it could be about HGVs. I could even find one course and repeat it five times!

Given that was the situation, I already knew that whichever course or provider I picked I was likely to end up in a room full of HGV drivers.
Knowing that I was unable to get a coach and bus specific-course I decided that I would go ahead and book with one of the national DCPC training providers, Enterprise Transport Training. The firm has a large selection of courses available and locations nationwide, and they only wanted £65 per course…and that included free hot drinks and as many biscuits as you could eat – a bargain I thought!

Going into it with an open mind

The kitchen area also contains various signs in regard to driver regulations, speed limits, etc. You could also pick up smaller leaflets of these posters. RICHARD SHARMAN

Let’s be 100% honest, DCPC training is not the most exciting way to spend 39 hours of your life and in the back of your mind you know that much of what you are about to be told will be what you already know, so in that sense, you are already bored before you even get there.

But, to be fair, I had kept an open mind about the week ahead. The course was held in Worcester, just off Checkett’s Lane on an industrial estate. The course started at 0800hrs sharp, but you are required to arrive 30 minutes beforehand so that the instructor can register you on the course. They take your driving licence and DCPC card and scan it to the office for registration. You are also required to sign an attendance sheet. The industrial unit used consisted of an entry area, kitchen and classroom. It was not a new building but was perfectly acceptable for its use.

Mike Dean was to be my instructor for the week, a likeable but more importantly experienced professional in his field, which had been HGV-based. The classroom consisted of rows of tables facing a whiteboard and TV monitor, with 19 seats in total at the tables.

Nine others joined me on the course on day one, and much as I expected, they were all HGV drivers. When you consider that there are in the region of 576,000 HGV drivers in the UK to 233,000 PCV drivers, it is pretty much always going to be the case unless you are attending a course provided by a bus operator, or there is a group of drivers going from an independent operator to a similar course to the one I was on.

As the day started, Mike explained his background and how the day would pan out. The first day’s course was Walk Round Checks and Load Security. Each day would start with an introduction and then each candidate would introduce themselves and what they do. This was quite interesting in that it showed just how much experience was in the room.

You had drivers that had been in the military, transported F1 cars or engines, and one guy that had just returned from Canada after doing some ‘Ice Road Trucking,’ although he was actually filmed for the TV show Highway through Hell. This led to some interesting insight into conditions out there.
Moving on to the course, I found the Walk Round Check talk quite interesting. Although it was more HGV-based, it offered a valuable insight into how the other half lives. Of course, many parallels can be drawn between PCVs and HGVs.

As the day continued we were shown several videos, including some issued by the DVSA and one from the 1980s starring Nascar Champion Benny Parson, discussing truck tyre blowouts.

I also found the fine levels that drivers can attract for not carrying out Walk Round Checks correctly and taking out an illegal vehicle quite interesting. Load Security was next; I didn’t pay much attention to this section for obvious reasons. By the end of day one I felt fine and was happy that I had a good instructor; the interaction with other drivers attending made the day go much quicker.

Day two was all about Safe and Efficient Driving, which again was quite good. Mike is good at explaining things, and as he had operated his own HGVs he was able to relate to the slides and videos that he was showing. We had gained an extra candidate for the second day, so there were 10 in the room. Again, it was a day of good banter and some interesting facts; one particular video issued by Volvo showed the efficiencies that can be gained by making full and proper use of the exhaust brake and cruise control options. Making use of both resulted in an 11.5% fuel saving against a driver not using them.

Plenty of hot drinks and biscuits were available during the three break periods! RICHARD SHARMAN

Day three was a turning point – only two days left to go but a whole day about Driver and Workplace Health and Safety. This turned out to be another worthwhile day. Health and Safety is a serious issue and Mike went into detail to get this fact over.

A video was shown from 1995 in Iowa, USA at a cement plant to show how things had changed. For example, there was no PPE being worn, scant warnings and safety equipment on mixing vehicles and so on.

Mike also went into detail about drivers’ health and welfare, where statistics show that 49% of all workdays lost are from ill health, and looked at how to deal with that. During this day I also found out what a Moffett truck was, so that was a bonus! (If you don’t know, Google it).

Day four was the one I was least looking forward to: Drivers’ Hours and Tachographs. 13 out of 19 seats were filled today, the most attendees so far. Having spent the previous years before CBW dealing with drivers’ hours I thought that I would find this day the most tedious, but to be fair it offered a good refresher, particularly in regard to digital tachos as I had been dealing with domestic hours previously.

The day went quite quickly as Mike fielded questions from other drivers seeking clarification on various drivers hours’ questions. Mike also mentioned an interesting tool for drivers, a digital tachograph simulator: bit.ly/2Tgbj8V

The fifth and final day had arrived and the topic was Road Traffic Law and Enforcement. This turned out to be a good day; it went into great detail about the role of the DVSA and the Police by showing videos on various subjects.

Videos from TV series ‘Police Camera Action’ were also shown that related to HGVs, followed by various DVSA videos. There was also a Highway Code road sign refresh, which was entertaining.

Did I learn anything?
Thirty-nine hours and five days later, did I learn anything? Well, the answer is yes, I did.

Enterprise Transport Training provides a good learning environment and an instructor in Mike that is very knowledgeable about the subject that he is teaching – this makes a huge difference.

OK, so these courses were not solely aimed at PCV drivers, but I felt included and they still covered topics that are applicable to both HGV and PCV drivers. I also came away from the week’s courses having learned a hell of a lot about the HGV industry and what people think about it. It would seem that things are not all rosy in that industry either, with a shortage of drivers and low wages at many companies.

Enterprise Transport Training also issues drivers with handy information cards about the subjects covered at the end of each course, which could be useful to keep in your bag.

Overall, it was a positive experience that I found interesting and engaged with. I think DCPC training overall is worth it; it refreshes you on your obligations of being a ‘Professional Driver’ and can also give insight on many other subjects such as health and wellbeing. If drivers can look past the ‘sitting in a classroom’ aspect, then they will learn.