Unemployed military veterans are being retrained as truck drivers under a groundbreaking scheme.
Robin Hood, of Dumfries veterans’ charity SWSRNR, says it provides solutions for two growing problems – jobs for ex-squaddies and reducing the haulage driver shortage.
“The UK is currently 85,000 lorry drivers short and that will rise to 100,000 this time next year,” Robin said. “We have 40,000 veterans on the dole. To me it’s common sense – the country needs goods delivered and veterans need jobs.”
Robin, who spent 32 years as a reservist, took over the running of the charity three years ago when it faced the threat of closure.
He approached Westminster and received a grant of £52,000 per year for three years – which the charity must match – to put veterans through driver training.
In the first 12 months of the scheme last year, the charity put 36 drivers through their class one HGV training.
This year, Robin is aiming for 40 new drivers and doubling that to 80 next year. Ultimately, he wants to put 10,000 through the training.
“Not all 40,000 veterans on the dole will be suitable to become lorry drivers – some have PTSD, others are disabled – but I believe 35% could be.
“If the government spends a couple of thousand pounds on putting a man in his early-40s through training, they will get far more than that back from him in income tax over the next 25 years.”
Robin, who suffered from PTSD after nearly dying in a head-on collision while in the TA, passed his class one exams to show the veterans it was achievable.
“I’ve seen the change employment has had on the men already. You see their confidence shoot up.”
Kevin-Clarke Brown, from Dumfriesshire, had been unemployed for a year when he heard about the SWSRNR scheme.
The 56-year-old spent 22 years in the Royal Signals and then a further 11 years working in the Middle East.
“When I came back I didn’t have any work,” he said.
“I had a class two licence from my days in the Army and knew I would get more opportunities with a class one, so I paid for training but failed.
“It was a huge relief when the training centre told me about Robin. I passed on January 25. Three days later I started work with Curries European.”
On Monday, Robin began a 340-mile, 26-day trek from John O’Groats to Dumfries pulling a 6ft 6in, 20-stone wooden carving of a Second World War soldier to raise funds for the driver training scheme.