A recent article in the excellent Route One magazine, got me thinking about a subject that has long been close to my heart over the course of my career. Indeed it transformed my world quite significantly after my foray into Poland in 2003, resulting in myself and my business partner now owning a very successful business in Poland that ironically has nothing to do with the world of buses. It is strange how life sometimes chucks you these opportunities, and if I have learned one thing in my time on this planet. It is this, be bold, be courageous and be ready to fail on the way. But, make sure that you learn from the experience and if possible do not repeat the same mistake.
I have undertaken all sorts of experiments in my career to attract people to drive buses for a living, from teaching 17 year olds, to people of all ages and genders from Eastern Europe. From refugees seeking asylum, to former prison inmates, I have had a go at all sorts, to get people to commit to doing an important and socially essential job, where no two days are ever the same. It is still a form of major frustration to me that we do nothing to promote driving jobs in the UK, a major irony really, in fact I do not think that I have ever seen any TV adverts to attract people to become drivers. In most cases it is a small panel on the rear of a bus, van, or minibus. Not unlike those seedy adverts that you see in London phone boxes for people of dubious repute. Why is this the case, why are we are not in the primary schools, advocating kids to become professional drivers, after all kids love postman Pat, so why not become a postman, Thomas the Tank engine, clearly jobs as fat controllers, oh and train drivers, and lets not forget Fireman Sam, strangely enough there never seem to be problems recruiting fireman. And where are the advocates for professional drivers? Easy answer, there are not any.
And guess what it is the same for schools, colleges, sixth form Colleges, Technical Colleges, there is not to my knowledge any advocacy for these essential jobs. If anything there is a tangible national dare I say contempt in certain circles at the prospect of being a professional driver, it is a real shame when you step back to the nineteen fifties and sixties. Being a professional driver either in the bus and coach industry or indeed being a truck or lorry driver had real social prestige, the public respected the drivers and the job that they did. So, why and when did all that change? To be honest it is hard to pin it down, not one time, nor change in society, but at some point social norms and conventions changed and suddenly being a professional driver seemed to carry no sense or value, And of course the profession was not helped when people like Mrs Margaret Thatcher famously said that if people by the age of 26, were still using public transport then they had clearly failed in life.
Not only was this immensely rude to young people but it was also a truly damning put down of the bus industry let alone the hapless driver. I mean just how awful is that she criticises the young for not owning a car by a certain age. But, by implication she also dismissed the entire Industry that quite literally was the vehicle of social failure, which begs the question where does the driver fit in this savage mauling of the Industry. Clearly the Iron Lady took a very dim view of the bus industry which of course is why she decided to privatise it in 1986. Therefore if am quite honest when Route One quite rightly highlighted the reality of Brexit will strangle one of the main arteries of recruitment, which is course members of the EU locating to the UK and becoming drivers, be it bus or coach, or Eddie Stobart, or even more relevant these days Amazon or even Uber. So God only knows just what will happen. I remain as ever the eternal optimist and by luck or by judgement we will over come the challenge, I hope….