Thursday 4 June 2020

Trade groups call for driver apprenticeship changes

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The Road Haulage Association (RHA) and Freight Transport Association (FTA) have joined forces to urge the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IFATE) to enable an increased variety of routes into the transport sector, in a bid to help mitigate the driver shortfall.

The organisations report that a recent meeting of the Trailblazer Apprenticeship group led to a decision to continue providing a route for Cat C+E licence acquisition, and also to press ahead for two new apprenticeships, offering separate routes for Cat C and Cat C+E.

FTA and RHA are now calling on IFATE to recognise what they call “the distinctly different occupations of urban and trunker driving and the specific skills required for each job”.

Both associations have welcomed the Trailblazer group’s forthcoming development of the standards required for qualifications in this area.

In a joint statement, chief executives of FTA, David Wells, and RHA, Richard Burnett, said: “There is no more time to be wasted if suitable standards are to be developed and new entrants to the industry are to start their journeys to fulfilling careers in the freight and logistics sector.

“After three years of negotiations and discussions with IFATE and government, it is encouraging that a workable, practical solution for the development of two new apprenticeship standards for logistics is now in sight, and we are urging all employers involved to prioritise the creation of these standards ready for the summer.

They continued: “Logistics businesses have been paying into the apprenticeship levy for the past three years without suitable standards to draw down and use the funds to improve and expand their workforces.

“It is a positive step that the sector will work together to push forwards the standards necessary for new apprenticeships, and will give businesses concerned about futureproofing their workforce that assistance is finally being made available.

“Our industry is at the heart of keeping the UK’s commerce and industry flowing, and the government owes it to our members to ensure they have access to the best workforce possible to keep vehicles moving.”

The fact that EU workers currently represented 13 per cent of the UK logistics workforce, the chief executives warned, meant changes to the way new employees could be trained were urgent.

“It’s a triple whammy,” RHA’s Richard Burnett remarked in a separate statement, highlighting the association’s disapproval of government plans which would restrict immigrant workers from the EU after the Brexit transition.

“We’re not getting the money to train new drivers, the driver shortage isn’t recognised and now we’re being told that operators can’t employ immigrants to fill staff rotas.

“Many UK operators are totally reliant on European drivers. Putting a stop to the immigrant workforce will have a massive impact on the supply chain, and the next-day deliveries we have all come to expect will be a thing of the past.

FTA reiterated its view that “vital logistics workers” must be excluded from government post-Brexit immigration policy.

Said head of skills policy Sally Gilson: “If the government insists on withdrawing access to EU workers, it will have to adapt and adjust its allowances for training; the burden should not solely lie on UK businesses…

“FTA is urging the government to give special dispensation to EU logistics workers; they must be welcomed post-Brexit transition period to ensure the sector can continue operating.”

Last month Gilson also expressed concern at figures obtained by the BBC suggesting employers were failing to utilise hundreds of millions of pounds intended for the training of apprentices, collected by government via the apprenticeship levy.

“Logistics businesses have now been paying into the apprenticeship levy for the past three years without suitable standards against which to draw down funding; as such, they are unable to use the funds to improve and expand their workforces, and the payments are essentially a secondary tax on an industry already operating on very slim margins.”

She called for urgent reform of the levy, to allow previously unused funds to be utilised for more flexible training programmes.

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