Challenging gender stereotypes as an apprentice tanker driver

The liquid fuel distribution sector is evolving on many fronts and gender diversity IS one of them with successful women increasingly contributing at every level. Still heavily male dominated however, when it comes to certain roles such as tanker driving, Fuel Oil News caught up with Leah Snow, a relative newcomer to the industry to hear more about how she is happily challenging gender stereotyping both within and without the sector.

Challenging gender stereotypes as an apprentice tanker driver

While most put serious consideration into their career path, it was Leah’s spontaneity that led to her joining the team at Evesons Fuels, part of the NWF Fuels family, in the autumn of last year. Holidays are often a time for self-reflection and, while away with friends, Leah decided to begin a new career that has brought as many challenges as it has rewards. 

An appealing challenge

Seeing a chance to begin a career with Evesons, a distributor that delivers to Warwickshire, Worcestershire, the West Midlands, Hampshire and West Sussex, Leah wasn’t deterred by the thought of being a tanker driver. If anything, challenging gender stereotypes and paving the way for female colleagues was part of the appeal. With a job in security that could already be considered ‘unconventional’, and a natural talent for driving, operating a truck full of fuel seemed like a no-brainer.

After successfully passing the interview stages, Leah started her driving apprenticeship by shadowing the Evesons’ drivers to learn the ropes or, in this case, hoses. Fortunately, Evesons’ driver Daisy (Dave Vaisey) is a former driving instructor and has acquired the unique ability to teach skills that are almost impossible to articulate once they become part of your subconscious and muscle memory. Daisy soon became Leah’s go-to driver.

There is, however, a lot more to delivering fuel than simply driving. Leah had to master routing, degassing tanks, safety protocols, and the best order in which to fill and deliver fuel from the tanker’s six compartments to keep the truck well balanced – with a capacity of around 15 tons of fuel around the back it’s wise to keep a sensible centre of gravity…

As well as the practical experience gained at Evesons, the apprenticeship taught Leah the knowledge required to pass theory tests specific to tanker driving. The course was so thorough and holistic that it even included lessons on the best diets for drivers to help maintain their concentration.

Taking the lead

The next big step to becoming a fully-fledged tanker driver was to pass the Urban Driver Level 2 test which would allow Leah to progress from shadowing from the passenger side to taking the driver’s seat. Despite having considerably less driving time than her male counterparts from depots across the country, some of whom were taking the test for the second or third time, Leah was the only driver in her cohort to pass the test on the first attempt.

Leah is now on the roads, driving with the assistance of seasoned Evesons’ drivers, and beginning to take on solo deliveries. Never having been one to sit behind a desk or stay in one place too long, Leah has very definitely caught the ‘fuel bug’ and loves getting about, seeing the quaint villages and interesting houses around the Downs, and enjoying stopping for lunch with a view of the seaside around Southampton.

With her own insight into the benefits of defying the status quo, Leah offers her advice for those wanting to progress in unconventional careers: “Whether it’s tanker driving, security or anything else you want to do, don’t be put off thinking it’s only men who can do it, or it’s only for one type of person. It’s common to worry about following the norm and to believe that women can’t compete with men in certain roles.

“I’m only small, probably 5’ 4”, and carrying a 100ft hose full of fuel around gardens, driveways and other obstacles is physically demanding. The Evesons’ drivers I’ve been out with will usually manage to drag the hose to the customer’s tank in one pull, whereas I often have to have a couple of attempts. But that’s okay, don’t feel bad about it, just do what you’re capable of and you’ll find, 9 times out of 10, that’s enough.”

While the liquid fuels industry may still be considered, by some, to be archaic in some areas, those within the industry like Leah, supported by diverse employers like NWF Fuels, are helping to fuel change and drive progression.