The Great British Brake Off – Former Baker Katie Is The New Queen Of The Cab

Pallet-Track boss praises next generation of female HGV drivers.

The founder of one of the UK’s largest pallet networks has described 20-year-old Katie Ellis as a ‘trailblazer inspiration’ after she became the second generation of her family to fully qualify as HGV driver.

Nigel Parkes, the managing director of the £77-million turnover Pallet-Track network, said that the former bakery assistant was a ‘role model’ because she was one of the youngest people in the UK to be able drive 44-tonne trucks.

Prestige Distribution, based in Horsham, West Sussex, has been part of the 83-strong network for 10 years and covers the south-east of England including night trunk driving from Pallet-Track’s southern hub directly into London, a task that Katie has already embraced.

“This is a great success story from a traditional family firm and goes to the heart of issues facing the supply chain. The industry needs more young people like Katie to come forward as drivers. She is a role model for the next generation who, though her achievement, is breaking records, stereotypical moulds and glass ceilings in their wake,” he said.

“With the average age of HGV drivers being over 50, the girls are a breath of fresh air to an industry struggling to recruit qualified drivers. It is a national problem which needs to be solved because it is having an impact on the price of goods and services if businesses have to use agency drivers who are by their nature more expensive.”

According the national figures form the Road Haulage Association (RHA), the industry needs around 50,000 drivers to get behind the wheel. But, with the average HGV driver age of 53 and only two per cent of applicants under the age of 25 so there are currently more drivers looking at retirement than climbing into a cab for the first time.

The figures also reveal that just one per cent of HGV drivers are women.

Katie is believed to be one of the youngest women to ever obtain a class one licence, allowing her to drive the heaviest goods vehicles. She is now looking to obtain the Driver Management CPC.

After completing her A-Levels at Steyning Grammar School, Katie wasn’t sure what career path to take and father Steve, the founder of Prestige Distribution, told her that she should get a job outside of the business in the first instance.

“Dad did not want me to join the company straight away, but said that I should go out and learn to stand on my own two feet,” said Katie.

“I thought about university, but I did not know to study so got a part time job in a bakery and they offered me a full time post, which I did for over a year before a job came up with Dad. I took Class 2 driver training when I was 19 and have just got my Class 1 which was another notch on my belt,” she said.

Apart from a breaking through the glass ceiling, Steve Ellis said the move made perfect business sense: “I suggested that she go out and get a job in the first instance to learn what life was all about, but she has a real aptitude for the job learns very quickly – she is a natural and a great asset to the business.”

Katie, who did her training with EP Training Services, is no longer treated as a novelty by fellow drivers, but as one of the lads.

“When I pull up outside a delivery point, I used to get surprised comments along the lines of “did you drive that big thing in here?”

“Now people are used to the idea and I’m pretty much treated like everyone else.”

The journey for the Ellis family does not end there: 18-year-old brother Michael is about to follow in the tyre tracks of big sister Katie.

He is currently doing smaller deliveries in the Prestige light commercial vehicles, but is scheduled to take his Class 2 in the next few weeks.