When researching which company to train with to become a driving instructor, many people are attracted by the larger, national companies. They use their financial muscle to feature first on Google using paid-for advertising, and therefore become an obvious start point for most potential instructors.
What stands out immediately is how relatively cheap it is to complete a training course with them, which may not prepare you properly to pass the qualifying tests or prepare you for a long and successful career as a driving instructor. From the outset, they tell us what we want to hear, what is possible (unlikely for the majority) – but not the reality. From as little as £995 initial outlay, it is claimed that, upon qualifying, earning potential is £40,000 for a 40-hour week. It almost sounds too good to be true – and of course, for most people starting on the road to become a driving instructor, it is!
In this article, I want to explain how the big companies can offer cheap training, why their claims don’t stand up to scrutiny and how researching a reputable, local trainer can save money and set you up for a successful new career.
Selecting a driving instructor trainer
I started my new career in my late thirties, back in 1993. I trained with a specialist, independent trainer and it was the best move I ever made. I paid 2-3 times the fees the big companies were asking over my six-month training period. For that I received regular, high-quality training on a 1 to 1 basis which gave me the skills to be able to pass my qualifying tests first time and, more importantly, teach correctly and confidently. This benefitted my pupils directly as my driving test pass rate was high and I knew I was delivering well-trained drivers, fully equipped for the road. At the time, I didn’t fully realise how fortunate I had been selecting an independent specialist. It set me up for a long and successful career to this point.
Cheap training – too good to be true!
No driving instructor trainer, or training company, can deliver 70 plus hours of training and the training resources to go with it for £1,000 and make a profit on that alone – in fact they would make a substantial loss and go out of business quickly. They would be earning £10-12 per hour (driving instructors earn around £25-30!). So how can the big boys charge so little upfront?
The majority of trainee ADIs will pass parts 1 and 2 of their qualifying tests with little problem. Brush up on some driver knowledge (part 1) and knock off the rough edges from your driving (part 2) and part 3 training is upon us quickly. The law states that trainee instructors must have 40 hours of part 3 training BEFORE they can teach learner drivers for money on what is termed, a Trainee Licence (6-month temporary licence to gain real-life teaching experience).
At this point, many potential instructors will attach themselves to their training company so that they can teach under their banner. Parts 1 and 2 have usually gone well, mutual trust has been engendered, so why not. This is where the large companies start to recoup the money they lost by offering a cheap training course.
Pupils and a vehicle with company logo will be supplied by the training company, which has now become the franchisor to you – the franchisee. There will be costs attached to this service, somewhere between £230 and £280 per week depending on the package bought. For up to 6 months the overheads for the service will exceed £1400 per month (including fuel costs) before you earn a penny! That’s potentially £8 – 9,000 over the 6-month period. This is how they start to turn a loss in to a profit.
You may be trying to balance holding down your current job whilst transitioning to full time work as an instructor. So, working part time as an instructor during this 6-month period will reduce your potential income – but the weekly franchise payments must still be paid.
The pressure is on to finish the qualification process. Part 3 is usually where potential instructors start to question the amount and quality of their training. Working on a 2:1, or even 3:1, trainer/trainee ratio does not work well for most trainee ADIs. Only half of the allotted 40 hours are spent in the instructing seat and the other half watching the other trainee from the back of the car. Corners are cut further when the 40 hours are crammed into a residential course over a week or so. Imagine trying to learn to drive in five days, Monday to Friday!
Working as a franchisee once fully qualified
All being well, you pass the final qualifying test and climb on to the first rung of the ladder. At this point, it might seem easier to stay with the company which trained and sponsored you on the trainee licence. An unbreakable one-year contract does not sound long but if the company fails to supply enough pupils and/or sends you out of your local area to deliver lessons, your unpaid travel time will increase significantly as will the fuel bill. All this time, the weekly franchisee fee keeps leaving your bank account – that’s between £11-14,000 – over the first year, for the supply of pupils and a car.
The national company you signed up with originally will probably have taken around £20,000 from you over the previous eighteen months but they might be “generous” and give your initial investment of £1,000 back to you. They can certainly afford to do this, so their generosity should be balanced against the large amount you have paid them.
Getting out of the contract early is highly unlikely. The hidden costs of the low initial investment in your training are now being realised.
Is there another way of training, qualifying and working without it costing as much?
I advise all potential instructors to do some in-depth research before selecting a trainer or training company. This includes:
- Approaching local, qualified instructors to find out their training-to-be-an-ADI experiences, the pitfalls to avoid and who they would recommend
- Choosing a trainer from the ORDIT Register. DVSA administer a Register of approved driving instructor trainers and they only recommend trainers on the Register
- Expecting to pay more initially for a 1:1 course with an experienced professional who can tailor the course precisely to your needs. Passing the part 3 test of instructional ability is not easy. Lots of guidance, quality training and self-development are necessary to get through it
- Being prepared to spend a few hours each week over a six to nine-month period to be ready to teach your students on a trainee licence prior to gaining a full ADI licence
Realistic costs and time frame to qualify as a Driving Instructor
Pay-as-you-go courses are a great option but inevitably, more expensive. But the training outlay is an investment in your future, not a cost. Paying for each of the three parts in turn spreads the expenditure and if you decide to end your training at any point, the payments stop.
- Part 1 – costs for training materials for home study and a little in-car training to bring the study to life, can be bought for £100-£200. Part 1 exam fee – £81
- Part 2 – most potential instructors require around 10-14 hours driver training to be ready for their advanced driving test. Expect to pay around £40/hour with an ORDIT trainer. Part 2 exam fee – £111
- Part 3 – 40 hours of 1:1 training (legal requirement for a trainee licence) at £40/hour, spread over two to three months, means that the teaching skills of a driving instructor are absorbed and practiced gradually. Part 3 exam fee – £111
- Trainee Licence – £140 for a six-month licence to teach student drivers to gain practical experience (and be paid by your students) before taking the Part 3 exam. A further 20 hours of training must be completed in the first three months of the licence
Reduced weekly costs operating as a qualified instructor (compared to working for a big company)
The most important needs when starting out as a newly qualified driving instructor are a regular supply of pupils and minimal vehicle expenditure. Is it possible to significantly reduce the overheads to maximise the profits?
- Vehicle – a used Ford Fiesta (or equivalent) can be purchased from as little as £200/month over a 3-year period. Learner drivers are rarely bothered what they drive provided it is functional, clean and serviceable. Dual controls – around £350 fitted
- Specialist car insurance – expect to pay between £10-30/week dependent upon postcode and driving history
- Supply of pupils – with a reputable, local driving school, a weekly franchise fee of between £50-80 is typical for the supply of pupils, stationery, roof box etc.
So, for as little as £110-160/week you can be working as a driving instructor, operating as part of a reputable, local driving school. Compared to the typical cost of working for one of the big companies, that is a saving of between £70 and £120/week or £5,000 – £9,000 in the initial 18 months of teaching.
The attraction of a cheap driving instructor training course with a big company is appealing but short-sighted. The course delivery is usually in large training blocks, often sharing a vehicle with other trainees and the trainers may not be recommended by DVSA. If you qualify as an instructor with them, how confident and capable a driving instructor will you really be?
In the medium term (12-18 months), the financial outlay working for a national company will almost certainly exceed the amount spent if attached to a local, ORDIT-registered trainer/company.
Driving instructing is a worthwhile profession where we teach an important life skill. I strongly recommend that prospective driving instructors seek out a well-regarded instructor trainer/training company with a good reputation, excellent reviews, lengthy experience and ORDIT-registered.
Phil Hirst ORDIT Principal Trainer