logistics apprenticeships boost

Logistics UK (formerly the FTA) has delivered biting criticism of current government policy in its 2020 Skills and Employment Report, while calling for significant changes. The report singles out the impact of the twin punches of Brexit and the Covid crisis on an already ailing labour market as a cause for anxiety. It goes on to lay bare failings in both apprenticeship schemes and immigration policy that stymie attempts to remedy the growing crisis.

The annual report is based on research and analysis commissioned by Logistics UK but produced independently, by Repgraph. Reports in previous years have highlighted concerns in the sector and discussed the efficacy of existing policies and schemes. However, the tone of the 2020 report is significantly tougher than previous years, presumably in response to the growing pressures on the sector.

Key statistics include an overall decline in the total number of HGV drivers in employment by 6.7% from 2019-2020, accompanied by a decrease in the number of van drivers in employment by 8.6%, and of forklift drivers by 20.7%.

As in previous years, it is the shortfall in skilled HGV drivers which is driving concern. Poor recruitment and an ageing HGV driver population are issues not only in the UK, but across Europe. However, Brexit and Covid have exacerbated these issues in 2020. The average age of HGV drivers climbs steadily through the year, typically taking a dip only in Q2 as younger drivers (presumably those leaving full time education) join the sector.

However, despite large numbers of young people in unemployment, the average age of HGV drivers jumped up more than 6 months in Q2 2020: a sign young people are not only not becoming drivers, they may even be leaving the profession. ‘In Q2 2020, the proportion of people under the age of 24 driving HGVs fell 57% to 2,724, compared to Q2 2019.’

Meanwhile, EU and other immigrant workers, who make a significant proportion (around 10%) of the logistics workforce, are leaving the country in high numbers. Citing another report by UK in a Changing Europe, Logistics UK alleges ‘given the UK’s comparative performance in both economic and health terms, rather than stay, EU workers have simply “gone home”.’

Given the vacuum, then, why have now unemployed UK workers not rushed to fill the vacancies? Addressing the paradox of high demand and low uptake, the report identifies several key weaknesses in policy creating obstacles to entry.

The cost of training is cited as the first obstacle, and identified as ‘clearly too high for most individuals to pay out of their own pocket.’ Apprenticeships schemes, touted as a potential solution to the shortfall, are also failing. ‘The number of transport apprenticeships started in the last five years is less than half the original 30,000 target set by Government in 2015.’

The low uptake for apprenticeship schemes is blamed on a structural issue with way training costs are allocated, given that firms shoulder the burden for training but drivers are then free to leave for companies that can afford to pay higher wages. ‘This creates a disincentive for business to spend additional funds on training.’

While recruitment of BAME drivers was seen as promising, the failure of the sector to attract women was identified as an ongoing diversity issue, and linked to the Government’s failure to deliver on promises of more secure HGV parking spaces with suitable facilities for women.

Criticism also fell on DVSA’s response to the Covid crisis: ‘Despite the development of COVID-19-secure processes and means to take tests, DVSA shut the system down and delivered only 631 practical tests in Q2.’ With a decrease in the number of HGV practical tests taken of 96.6%, this situation is only going to worsen, leading Logistics UK to call for ‘urgent action to make up this shortfall.’

Given the problems bringing UK nationals into the workforce, the obvious alternative would be to bring in immigrant workers to fill the gaps. But the report argues that post-Brexit immigration policy makes this nearly impossible, ‘because the MAC (Migration Advisory Committee) has not accepted the case for adding the role of HGV driver to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) because it is not eligible for the skilled worker visa route.’

In light of this plethora of reprovals, the report ends on a confrontational note. ‘The time for talk is over: Government must act now in partnership with industry to secure the future of logistics.’

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