Tuesday 19 January 2021

Approval won for Cat C+E driver apprenticeships

Image DVSA Crown copyright

Truck driver apprenticeships are to be reformed with the inclusion of a scheme for the acquisition of Category C + E licences for the first time.

Introduced in 2017, the initial LGV Apprenticeship provided £5,000 funding for vocational driver training, but included only Category C (rigid vehicle) licence acquisition: there was no formal arrangement to progress to the Category C+E licence that covers articulated vehicles and drawbar combinations. Industry showed little sustained enthusiasm for the scheme, with numbers enrolled declining each year.

While 4,000 apprentices were enrolled in the first 12 months, this number has fallen and is now declining by almost one third year-to-year. This does not even cover the number of drivers retiring each year from a workforce with an ageing demographic, let alone address the issues of expanding demand or drivers leaving the UK post- Brexit.

The government’s apprenticeship levy has taken contributions of more than £400 million from the logistics industry, but less than £30 million had been drawn to fund apprenticeships by the sector by the start of this year.

Jim French, who co-chairs the Transport & Warehousing Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group, said: “Most of the sector regards the apprenticeship levy as just another tax: an overhead that must be passed onto the customer if possible. They don’t see the current scheme as an opportunity to recruit and train new drivers.”

His co-chair, Gary Austin, whose ‘day job’ is training and development manager at Maritime Transport, added that a scheme which produces only Category C-licensed drivers is of limited use to the industry.

“Ninety-one per cent of advertised driver vacancies require a Cat C+E licence,” he pointed out. The Transport & Warehousing Trailblazer Group is now working with the government to produce an additional apprenticeship standard to take drivers to Cat C+E, which was an original objective of the group.

French and Austin say that Cat C-only apprenticeships will still be available, as the existing apprenticeship will remain in place. This entails renaming the current Cat C LGV Apprenticeship as the Urban Driver, with the new C+E scheme becoming the LGV Apprenticeship.

There is also to be a Transport & Warehouse Supervisor Apprenticeship, which will include the acquisition of the Transport Manager’s CPC. Gary Austin cautions that government machinery runs to a different timescale to that of logistics.

“The process of gaining approval for an apprenticeship seems to take a long time, especially from the viewpoint of an industry like logistics where ‘urgent’ means ‘next day’,” he said.

“But the relationship manager at the Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education (IFATE) is genuinely trying to get to grips with the industry and its requirements. We know that she has been visiting operators and going out in trucks to see what the job actually involves.”

Colin Snape, who headed human resources for haulier Nagel Langdons before going on to work for the Road Haulage Association (RHA) during the inception of the apprenticeship, said: “There are operators which only run artic trucks, and it was with them in mind that we originally tried to get an apprenticeship that would allow drivers to go straight to C+E.

“When we started, there was no-one in the governing IFATE that knew anything about road haulage. For example, we had to explain what manual handling was, and do it more than once. Meanwhile, there were millions of pounds being lost to the apprenticeship fund from the industry.”

But David Coombes, chief executive of Skills for Logistics, the not-for-profit, employer-led skills council for transport and logistics, is concerned that emphasis on C+E licensing will effectively disenfranchise the twothirds of operators that only run rigid trucks: a sector that he feels is currently under-represented on the Trailblazer Group.

He cautions that introduction of the Urban standard may be delayed, leading to a hiatus in recruitment of apprentices by employers with rigid-only fleets.

“There is no guarantee that two different programmes will be approved by IFATE. Within the next two months, it is expected that the current Cat C will be replaced with a C+E apprenticeship,” he said.

“But there is increasing demand for express home-delivery services, which means growing numbers of 7.5 – 18-tonne trucks.

“My issue is with the timing of this. We mustn’t see the existing rigid scheme shut down without offering those express service operators a standard they can use on a continuous basis.”

Gary Austin has invited operators who are interested in getting involved with the industry’s Trailblazer group to contact: trailblazergroup@mail.com

“There are three organisations that have the ear of government on this: the Freight Transport Association (FTA), the RHA and the Trailblazer Group. We need to get more of the industry, particularly smaller operators who may not be active in the FTA or RHA, involved if we are to make this an industry that people will want to come and work in,” he said.

FTA policy manager Mags Simpson said the new standard “cannot come quickly enough”.

“The news that the C+E apprenticeship standard has finally been approved for roll out is great news for our sector, and is testament to the hard work of the Apprenticeships Trailblazer group, co-chaired by Jim French and Gary Austin, which we have been in constant contact with,” she said.

“This new standard will give operators from across logistics the opportunity to draw down from the Apprenticeship Levy fund and start to develop the logistics stars of tomorrow – an opportunity previously denied to the industry due to the lack of appropriate standards against which to train staff…

“Our next priority is to gain accreditation for the Urban Delivery standard, as well as progressing the Transport and Warehouse Supervisor L3 apprenticeship, which is already underway.”

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