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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Why there’s no better job for me than driving around London in style in my 32-tonne lorry

Jodi Smith, Truck Driver at JMS Powered Access

Jodi Smith

Jodi Smith drives a 32-tonne lorry for JMS Powered Access. JMS is a nationwide company offering a comprehensive range of powered access solutions. Jodi is passionate about supporting other women who want to get into the industry so she does this by sharing the stories of her travels around London on social media.

Jodi Smith
Jodi Smith

“The more women get into driving lorries, the more the awareness spreads. I look out for other girls while driving, and we toot our horns and we wave at each other! It is very friendly.”

From horses, to cars, and now waste removal

I’ve been in a Class 2 trucks professionally now for over five years. Driving trucks came about purely because I passed my HGV (heavy goods vehicle) Class 2 licence in order to drive a horsebox. We had horses and I used to compete. My mum had a seven-and-a-half-tonne horsebox, so my granddad put me through Class 2 about 12 years ago.

Then I worked in a car garage driving their little recovery trucks, picking up cars and stuff. I thought: “Why am I doing this? I’ve got a lorry licence!” At this point, I decided to try and get into lorries. (I had tried years before but I struggled because I was young, 19 years old, and no one wanted to employ me because I didn’t have any experience.)

Jodi SmithSo, I left it until about five or six years ago, and then I got into it really easily. I’d worked at another powered access place for a year and a half (they had offered me a job straight away) before I joined my current employer, JMS Powered Access.

Powered access vehicles can be found in many sectors, wherever businesses need to lift and move products, equipment and people safely. This might be construction, manufacturing, engineering, as well as in storage and logistics.

My daily routine

I start work at 6am. Sometimes I’m there a little bit earlier. We try and load our lorries the day before.

Jodi SmithMy route is London. I love working in the capital. Most people think I’m nuts, but I genuinely love driving around London because there is always lots to see, and it’s a bit of a challenge. (Longer distance motorway driving bores me though, as I feel like it’s not really driving and I don’t enjoy it the same.)

There is always something happening in construction in London so I’m always busy. It can be quite challenging if I arrive at a site and there’s nowhere to park, so I have to reverse, but that’s all part of the skill of the driving I’m doing. Every day is different. I’m always in different places. Where I do go to the same sites, they know me quite well now as I’ve been doing it for five years now.

We finish at 4pm but if we work for longer we still get paid for it so it doesn’t bother me.

Impacts of COVID-19

During the pandemic the company itself has stayed open the whole way through, but initially the building sites were shut down in London so I think all but two of the drivers were furloughed for about two months. I was a fifth driver they bought back (we’ve got about 12 drivers in total).

It was nice having a little break, but it was also nice coming back to work as well. A lot of my friends working either retail or other stuff all got furloughed. I even know lorry drivers that were furloughed for a very long time. (One of my friends works in a paper shredding company and because there were no staff in offices there was no need for him to go back.) So, I was quite fortunate that construction is such a big industry that was all brought back pretty quickly.

Skills shortages in the industry

I think due to the skills shortages in the sector HGV drivers are being spoiled. There are a lot of places are offering good money to go and work for them. I get offered a lot of jobs but the grass isn’t always greener, and I love where I work and we’re paid good money, so I don’t really need to leave. A lot of JMS staff have been there for years and they are very loyal to the company.

Facilities: Must try harder

Jodi SmithFacilities for women on construction sites (where I’m delivering to) can be awful. Most of the time the ladies’ toilets are on-site in welfare units (in Portakabins). They will have a separate key for the ladies but half the time because there’s no ladies on the site, they’re a bit grim as they don’t get cleaned the same if they’re not being used. They can get a bit mildew-y. (I also don’t understand why the people who use toilets in welfare units people don’t flush them — it only takes a second!)

On one site I arrived to use the ladies and found it was being used for storage. I could barely get in as it was filled with 30 spare water cooler refills!

On really large sites there is a section for construction vehicles or delivery staff. If I say to the traffic marshals: “Where’s your toilet?” they sometimes roll their eyes as they know how far away it is and they have to escort you. They can’t just say: “It’s over there.” It’s always a million miles away and they never know where the women’s one is because they don’t go there.

Jodi SmithIn London I have learned where there’s toilets I can use. There’s security over at Canary Wharf and they let me use theirs, so even if I’m on the A13 out of London I can make that tiny detour. BP and Shell garages usually have a toilet too. I have just had to adapt though. Truck stops and motorway services are different, but as I only do London and I don’t do overnights it is less of an issue, but from what I’ve seen on Instagram and TikTok they’re grim.

You would have to take your flip-flops to use these showers, like you used to do at school. Even the men do that too. When facilities get into a state though, it is because a number of people have been disrespectful. Everyone needs to respect communal spaces or otherwise what’s the point?

Growing awareness of careers driving trucks

I think more women just need to get to know about the job. We didn’t have these careers flagged to us at school. It’s not something teachers teach, or encourage. Historically women don’t really see it, but I feel like more recently, more women are getting to know about it.

The more women get into driving lorries, the more the awareness spreads. I look out for other girls while driving, and we toot our horns and we wave at each other! It is very friendly.

Refusing to be daunted

I find all the girls in construction are the same type of girl, because it’s not for everyone. My best friend has come out with me in a lorry and she categorically said she would never do it, it’s not for her. We are quite similar, we’ve both got horses we both don’t mind getting our hands dirty at the stables, but she wouldn’t have the confidence to go on to a building site. Obviously, it is male-dominated, so it can be daunting. I’m on a site now, and there’s not one girl here.

But these are big building sites, and the men can’t act like animals. Most of them wouldn’t anyway. The vast majority of them act professionally. They’re at work. It’s their job. If you’re going to get comments it is normally members of the public in their own cars or pedestrians.

Calling out bad behaviour

I went onto a building site once and the traffic marshal said to me: “This job isn’t for you, it’s for a strong man.” I went onto that building site twice. The first time I tried to educate him because sometimes you do get: “Oh, this is a man’s job.” But usually, once they start talking to me their attitude changes and they’re okay with it, or it’s not even that they are just okay with it, they understand.

With that particular man when I went back to the site the second time it was worse. He really got my back up and I thought: “You know what? I’m a big brave girl. I’ve done this for long enough now.” So I went: “Can I use the toilet?” They escorted me in and I went straight up to the main office.

I said: “Who is in charge of these traffic marshals?” and I addressed it. I don’t want to be that girl who is crying over something, but I thought: “If you are going to make such a big deal over me being a woman coming onto a building site, what does that say about every other time a girl comes onto that site?

The next girl might not have the confidence. It might be her first day. She might be having a bad day. I had a duty to do something. It was a really big building site and they were disgraced with what he said. It wasn’t just the one thing, he kept going on and on. He was employed by an agency and they asked him to leave. He had been the first people visitors to the site met, so it was a ‘front of house’ role and they weren’t happy having someone like that representing the site.

Some men do come across a bit flirty with a bit of banter, and I’m fully aware of that. Before I worked on lorries I worked with men in a car garage, so near enough all my life. I get that there’s banter and flirting, and I’ll give as good as I get, but when someone was overstepping the mark and making me feel uncomfortable and I had to fully explain to him that what he was saying wasn’t right, but yet he was STILL arguing with me, I couldn’t let that slide.

It was nice to go and see the men overseeing the site (there were two of them) and be able to discuss it with them. They could see I wasn’t happy so we went into a meeting room. They took down all the details and apologised. They acted on the situation really quickly and said he didn’t represent the values of the company and that they were trying to encourage more women into the industry, so they wouldn’t stand for that kind of behaviour.

Making female role models accessible on social media

Jodi Smith and Christina Demetriou
Jodi and Christina in central London

My advice to women who would like to find out more would be to try talking to other girls who are in the industry. My friend, Christina (Demetriou), is a massive advocate for women. She’s on Instagam. I’m on Instagram and TikTok too.

I even had a woman message me through Instagram to ask for advice for her husband, as he’s thinking of getting into it. She saw me on This Morning on ITV and reached out for advice.

I’d just suggest asking other girls in the industry for their insight into it too. The only real place to see it is social media. The thing I like about social media is that the girls are honest as well. They will tell you like the bad things, as well as the good things. Just some insights as to what it’s all about. As I said, it’s not something that is advertised in school so you wouldn’t get the chance to explain otherwise.

I love to share what my job involves. It can sometimes just be silly little things — things I encounter on my adventures around London in my big pink truck.

I got to know Christina through driving lorries. I was driving my lorry around Hyde Park and she flagged me down and we’ve been friends ever since. There’s a real comradery amongst the younger women. Some of the older ladies aren’t as excited as we are because they’ve been doing it longer and perhaps they don’t feel the same as they used to, but that’s fine too.

I’ve only recently joined TikTok, but there’s so many truck drivers on there from different sectors as well. There’re so many types of truck driving. There are so many different types of trucks to drive.

Keep on trucking

Jodi SmithRecently I did my Class 1 licence. I’m currently in a 32-tonne wagon. We haven’t got any spare Class 1s at the moment so I’ve only been going in them as and when they’re free (when the driver is off, for example). My next step is to get into my own 44-tonne articulated truck. I’m in talks with my boss about getting me a bigger lorry for me.

We’d love to get more girls joining the company and I’d like to be able to hand my lorry over to someone who will take as much care of it as I have. It’s got P lights on and it’s got all the kelser bars on it, so it’s beautiful and I love it. It’s like my child! I only let certain people in it. You can’t miss me driving around London in it in all its pink glory, so the next person will have to take care of it the same way I do.

It’s my dream to move into bigger lorries and to start pulling heavier machines around London. I’ve probably done about a month’s worth of driving and artic work in our other lorries. I work every other Saturday they’ll put me in an artic to keep up my experience so the experience. A 44-tonne low-loader in my next challenge and I can’t wait!

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