Interviews

The fast growing HGV training company that’s got its foot on the accelerator

7 min read

24 October 2015

Helping to keep the nations goods on the move is The HGV Training Centre, a fast-growing SME that is building out a network of training locations to help deal with strong demand for new drivers.

HGVs have few fans – except perhaps for the people who drive them. Yet we all benefit from the work they do and figures show that HGVs are becoming safer. 

Road deaths involving an HGV have fallen by 43 per cent in a decade, according to research released by the Freight Transport Association recently. In contrast, there has been a rise in the number of road deaths involving other types of vehicle.

Meanwhile, the industry is crying out for drivers. It’s anticipated that the country will be short of 60,000 drivers by 2020 and it’s by no means certain that that target will be met.

It’s because of this demand for trained drivers and for improved safety that James Clifford and Gary Benardout founded The HGV Training Centre in 2012. Already it is anticipating a turnover of £7.45m this year and is the UK’s largest provider of HGV, LGV and PCV training – with the most extensive network of training centres and vehicles available.

With access to almost 50 locations nationwide, it has one of the highest pass rates in the UK and licenses can be gained in less than a week. Training over 200 people per month, The HGV Training Centre is aiming to reduce the current skills gap within the wider logistics industry, giving graduates support in finding job placements through cooperation with other sectors.

Clifford and Benardout have known each other since school and travelled the world during a gap year. “The idea for the business came from the most unlikely of places,” explained Benardout. “A former colleague of mine worked in finance and while he was overseeing the sale of a well-known poultry company he noticed a huge amount of wastage. 

“Looking into this further he discovered that the wastage was due to a simple lack of drivers. After I talked to him about it I discovered just how big the haulage skills shortage is and saw the opportunity for a business that could meet that demand.”

Clifford added: “Quite simply, the road haulage skills gap is one of the greatest threats to the economy. With 85 per cent of all goods consumed in the UK sent by road this poses a serious risk to the economy. The root cause of this is that drivers are retiring at a much faster rate than we’re recruiting them. It’s been talked about for a while, but in our view, not enough is being done to attract new talent. We see ourselves as playing a vital role in training up the next generation of HGV drivers.”

The two saw a gap in the market for a faster, more focussed training package that would be able to get drivers out on the roads with all the necessary qualifications so that they could start driving – and earning – more quickly than was the case at that time.

Only Benardout had experience of running his own business. Among the companies he was responsible for was a web-tech firm that he sold to News International in 2001. “I actually spent 15 years teaching maths in secondary schools which was incredibly rewarding,” revealed Clifford. “You’d be surprised at how well the challenge of getting 30 teenagers to enjoy maths translates into the business world.”

“From a young age I always knew I wanted to run businesses and the experience of doing so has proved to be invaluable over the years,” Benardout went on to say. “James joined me full-time three years ago and brought a fresh perspective in the role of MD.”

They managed to avoid seeking investment from external sources. “We both personally invested in the business to get it started. All the capital investment since that initial investment has been generated by the company itself,” said Benardout.

The company’s success is due in part to the use of modern business strategies and technology. “In an industry that has been slow to modernise, we’ve invested a great deal of time and effort developing our website and online presence. By doing this we’ve become the most accessible route for prospective HGV drivers and a leading name in HGV driver training,” explained Clifford.

This technology has naturally involved digital marketing. “From a personal point of view, the best moment was when, after investing a huge amount of time and effort into search engine optimisation, our website began ranking above the official government training websites on Google,” boasted Benardout. 

“This cemented our place as the leading HGV training organisation and helps us maintain our place as the market leader.” However, for a “fairly nervy” 48 hours the new site delivered no enquiries or clicks. The team held their nerve and things soon improved.

The company is already the number one provider of HGV training in the UK, and its aim now is to become the number one corporate HGV trainer. “We already work as the training arm of some of the largest logistics companies in the UK, but we are looking to broaden our portfolio even further,” said Benardout. “With the impending skills gap, we want to be there for the companies who need drivers. That’s why we’ve launched the industry’s first Driver Finder service that allows you to find drivers with the click of a button.”

The sector might be conservative but it’s still quite competitive and the existing providers were naturally suspicious of this new entrant. “We were settling into our new offices when we spotted one of our competitors, crouched behind a bin, spying on us,” remembered Clifford, laughing. “We left him for a while and then felt bad and took him a cup of tea to warm him up.”