Making the Switch: Sian’s secondment from Customer Experience Advisor to Tanker Driver

Collage of WP Group driver and WP Group tanker.

Last month one of our Customer Experience Advisors, Sian Davey, braved a two-week secondment within Operations to see if she wanted to pursue a career as an HGV Driver. Sian completed a two-week placement, seeing first-hand the process of delivering fuel and providing other services to our valued customers. Throughout the process, Sian generously documented her experiences, providing us with valuable insights into the world of being a fuel HGV driver.

Week One

I arrived at the depot on the first day at 6am, booted and ready to hit the road. Everyone was welcoming and friendly. The tanker looks a lot bigger up close. I’ll be working in a 4-wheeler, which is the smallest tanker in our fleet, but I’m 5ft 4, so for me it’s still a long way up and down.

It’s vital to start every day by carrying out our checks – from a general walk around to look for any damage to spotting any issues with lights. We then load up the tanker with the fuel we’re going to deliver. I put on my hard hat and hi-vis jacket, as these must always be worn in the yard.

Trent, our experienced HGV driver, first showed me the loading bay. The arms used to load the fuel into the tanker are called elephant’s feet, and I can see why – they’re huge!

Once loaded, we do our final checks, review our paperwork and we’re off. It’s a mixture of domestic and commercial customers to deliver to today, which eased me in gently.

Throughout the week we experienced all sorts of weather. The heavens opened on one day, making it very wet, but we smiled through it. We did see some beautiful views through the New Forest on the days when the sun was shining.

There were lots of long hose pulls and using the ladder to get safe access to tanks. Trent showed me the techniques for pulling the hose and how to use the ladder safely. I saw a big difference between the domestic and commercial deliveries.

Domestic tanks can require Spider-Man-like skills at times. I used the loading arms for the first time too, and wow, they’re so heavy. There’s a technique to using them safely too. I’m glad I had Trent to guide me.

There was a tricky delivery at a car sales centre mid-week, and we had to be extra careful around the new cars. My height came in handy though, since the tanks were in a tiny shed, which I didn’t need to duck for, but Trent, who is 6’4, had to nearly crawl into. I’ve also learnt that farms like to keep tanks in sheds full of spiders.

Fuel tank inside a shed.
Some tanks are hidden away in tiny sheds… full of spiders!

The same day, I also learnt how to set up the fuel lines and to perform line changes. Line changes are necessary when transitioning between products during deliveries, such as switching between red and white diesel.

Setting up the line is something we do between every delivery. It involves inputting the required delivery details into the tanker’s panel. This step is vital as it specifies to the vehicle what ‘pot’ we will be taking from and the volume of that product for the next delivery.

This week has shown me that identifying the right commercial location, and where their tank is kept within that site, is so important because you can have multiple companies in the same location. This is where clear updated instructions and contacts are vital.

I’m finding that as I’m doing more domestic deliveries, I’m getting used to the hose pulls now and doing it in sections helps.

Another drop we did was at a school. It was important to get the timings right due to access, which is why calling ahead is very important. I even got to deliver fuel to one of my own customers!

In the New Forest you must be mindful of the four-legged pedestrians.

I then finished at a beautiful house in the New Forest, where we saw a stag and a herd of deer, which ended the day nicely. Back at the yard, we offloaded the tanker, gave it a wash, and did our paperwork.

This week has given me a newfound respect for what our drivers do in a day. Physically it’s very demanding. I ache from the long hose pulls, but I’ve really enjoyed it. Everyone at the depot was so welcoming and supportive. I even have a locker with my name on it! A hot soak and a well-deserved rest are needed now before doing it all again on Monday.

Week Two

Trent’s been a good teacher, as I’m starting to get the hang of the order of the pump buttons and setting everything up on the vehicle. I’ve been hoping for some tall tanks this week, so I could practice my ladder work, as that’s still a little daunting for me.

The weather’s been awful; the worst it’s been since starting my secondment. We have heating in our vehicle and our waterproofs on, so it’s all good. We delivered fuel to one building site today, and it was flooded. I had to take a photo as it was like stepping out into a swimming pool.

I did it! The highest ladder climb to date. It was at a farm. It was high, it was muddy, and I did it all by myself, thanks to Trent’s words of encouragement. I pulled the hose up; filled the tank and then climbed back down with it. I thought to myself, I can do this. It was hard, but I loved it!

WP Group driver climbing a ladder to reach fuel tank
Sian braves a high climb to reach a fuel tank.

We visited a lot of construction sites, which were muddy, but quick drops; so long as you’re not waiting for someone to unlock site gates and move diggers out of your way. Unfortunately, we experienced both.

After these deliveries I had to hose off my boots and legs back at the depot. I learnt a very valuable lesson: when it looks like a quagmire, stay close to the tanks as that’s the area that will be the least muddy.

I didn’t, I stepped out as I was pulling the hose and sunk straight into the mud up to my boots. Trent laughed, the site workers laughed, and all I could think was thank goodness I didn’t fall! It was funny.

It’s my last day; and I feel it’s come around too quickly. When it comes to my own role as an account manager, it’s taught me the importance of providing drivers with clear delivery instructions and addresses.

All the addresses we had today were hard to find, right down to a tiny, bumpy country lane where Trent’s driving skills really came into force.

It was sad to say goodbye. I got a lot of ‘come back soon’ and ‘good luck and go and get your HGV license!’ Everyone at the Ringwood depot has been amazing, supportive, and made me feel like one of the team.

Trent has been the best trainer I could have asked for, and without a shadow of a doubt I want to take on this challenge and make this career change. I look forward to pursuing my goal of becoming a WP Group driver in the future.

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