With just a few months until the end of the Brexit transition period, it is estimated that an extra 50,000 private-sector customs agents will be needed to meet additional demands.

A recent survey of BIFA members showed that a staggering 65 per cent feel they don’t have enough staff to cope with the extra demand.

In a recent article in the Financial Times, stakeholders from across the sector warned that there are critical gaps that still needed to be addressed as the industry strives to adapt to 10 new systems on 1st January 2021.

We are at an important crossroads and we must protect the future of the sector as we step ever closer to Brexit.

Unfortunately, there has been a stark decline in the number of apprenticeships starting this year, mostly owing to the impact of Covid-19.  Latest figures suggest that International Freight Forwarding Apprenticeship starts are likely to be down by 66 per cent.

As businesses struggle to regain normality and balance the books, they have a lot of difficult commercial decisions to make, but we firmly believe that shelving apprenticeships should not be one of them.

It is vital to continue to recruit freight forwarding apprentices and build capacity to start equipping a new generation with the knowledge and skills to face the challenges ahead in the post Brexit and post Covid-19 world.

According to an article written by Rowena Bach, Talent Strategy Director at PeopleScout, the latest government statistics for March 2020 show apprenticeship starts are down by a quarter while numbers in April plunged by 72 per cent on the previous year.

The disruption caused to colleges and businesses meant many apprenticeships were unable to start or continue, which is inevitably limiting opportunities for young people to join the logistics sector.

Extra support when it is needed

In July, the Chancellor of the Exchequer scaled up employment support schemes, training and apprenticeships in response to the unprecedented times.

For new starts between 1st August 2020 and 31st January 2021, businesses are being offered £2,000 for each new apprentice they hire under the age of 25. This is in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the Government already provides for new 16-18-year-old apprentices and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan.

The news came just weeks after the government made an additional £50m available to accelerate growth of the UK’s customs intermediary sector via training.

In addition, the government has pledged that if apprentices are made redundant, it aims to find them alternative employment and continue their apprenticeship as quickly as possible.

However, we know it isn’t always as easy as that. Another option being implemented by employers is a ‘break in learning’ policy with extensions to assessment time frames, which is a viable and workable alternative.

BIFA’s commitment to the cause

BIFA is one of the largest providers of freight forwarding and customs-related training courses. It is currently delivering courses via video conferencing due to the Covid-19 crisis.

BIFA helped create the International Freight Forwarding Specialist apprenticeship which went live in 2018.

It has been described as an ideal entry point into the sector by industry leaders and more than 430 apprentices have already taken this pathway to great success.

Set at Level 3 (A Level) with a minimum duration of 18 months, the apprenticeship provides students with core knowledge and skills including industry awareness, customs procedures and commercial knowledge.

Apprentices are given the option of one of three pathways to follow: air freight, ocean freight or road freight.

Carl Hobbis, Training and Development Manager, at BIFA said: “We are ready to help any of our members that are willing to capitalise on the government funding being made available to either recruit apprentices, make traineeships available or increase training for existing employees.

“With an unprecedented need for more customs experts, an apprenticeship in freight forwarding is an extremely effective way to meet the current skills gap.

“While the government information needs to be more accurate and clearer, they have promised significant investment in the GB-EU border.

“It is absolutely imperative that businesses invest in new talent and plan their future talent strategy. While time is ticking towards the Brexit deadline, any decisions taken now can only strengthen teams with young people that add fresh impetus and new ideas.

“Employers shouldn’t underestimate the amount of time needed to train someone to become competent in customs procedures so the sooner they start the better.

“We will continue to encourage employers and potential entrants to consider the International Freight Forwarding (IFF) Specialist Apprenticeship as a route into the industry.

“Protecting the future of the logistics sector is the responsibility of everyone involved, and action is needed to ensure a stable and profitable future for all. More than ever, we need industry leaders to support virtual events with schools, colleges and community groups, to promote the sector. Not enough was done in this area pre-COVID, it should be easier now.

“We are urging every company that works in our sector to promote it by supporting careers initiatives at schools, colleges and in community settings and, most importantly, give someone an opportunity.

“If the industry pulled together and each gave one person a chance it would make a huge difference to the future of our sector.

Visit BIFA’s dedicated apprenticeship website to find out more

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