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Logistics UK urges Skills Minister to support training for essential Level 2 roles
Logistics UK hosted a fringe event on skills at the Conservative Party Conference earlier this week (4 October 2021).
Entitled Driving the Economy: What’s the future for lower skilled workers?, the event featured three panellists: Alex Burghart MP, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, Elizabeth de Jong, Director of Policy, Logistics UK and Steve Granite, Chair and Founder, Think Logistics and Chief Executive of Abbey Logistics.
INSUFFICIENT FOCUS ON LEVEL 2 TRAINING
Elizabeth de Jong, the first panellist to speak, began by expressing Logistics UK’s concern that the government may not be sufficiently focused on training for roles categorised as “lower skilled” despite these being critical for the economy.
“’Lower-skilled’ jobs are really important to our sector,” she said, “We cannot deliver our role in economic productivity without them.”
More than two thirds (67%) of jobs in the logistics sector are Level 2 (GSCE standard) and below, compared to the national average which is much lower at 40%. Three out of four Logistics UK members also reported difficulties recruiting for mechanic, fitter and technician roles and warehouse staff, also categorised as Level 2 roles.
Logistics UK has been looking closely at what help is available for those lower skilled roles.
“It would seem to us that there has been a focus on training for Level 3 and above,” Elizabeth de Jong said. “We welcome recent changes such as the bootcamps for 3,000 new HGV drivers and we know that there are apprenticeships for Level 2 and we know there are things we can do to improve the way that scheme works.”
Outlining the government-funded training options currently available, Elizabeth de Jong highlighted that only a minority of those were at Level 2, including two for HGV maintenance, with most courses at Level 3.
“We believe that the differences in Level 2 and below and Level 3 and above funding needs debate. Is it due to a purposeful decision and if so, what is the reason? And then we should ask ourselves is this the right level for our economy and for our society?
“We’re calling for Level 2 courses to be more equitably funded and more readily available. Without HGV drivers and fitters and technicians and warehouse operatives, goods cannot travel from A to B and our economy, our livelihoods and our international reputation stalls. That is why I’m so keen to debate this today. What is the role of Level 2 jobs, are they important and should they receive less favourable treatment than those that are at Level 3 and above?”
BRINGING THE DRIVER CRISIS TO LIFE
Steve Granite, Chief Executive of Abbey Logistics, the UK’s largest bulk food grade transport provider, was the next panellist to speak. He gave a startling account of the impact of the driver shortage on logistics businesses.
“At the moment we operate 350 trucks and 600 tankers in the UK and we employ 600 people,” he said, “We have around 10% of our fleet parked up in depots, not able to transport goods and we have more orders than we have capacity to move product.”
This is leading to shortages further down the supply chain, which Granite said is why people are seeing gaps on supermarket shelves, queues at fuel stations and shortages of materials in the construction sector.
“It’s a major challenge to attract and retain new drivers,” Granite said, “We’ve had a major re-engineering of our recruitment process. Retaining drivers is such a struggle because it’s so competitive in the market. They’re getting incentivised by supermarkets offering £4k-£5k sign on bonuses. It’s a daily struggle just to keep hold of the workforce that we have and every other company in the sector has the same challenge.”
Granite argued that the inability of companies to move goods will inevitably slow down the post-pandemic economic recovery. Even when his company does attract new talent, the whole process of transitioning a driver with a car licence to an HGV licence is far too slow he believes.
“As a company and as a sector, what are we doing ourselves to fix the problem? We’ve put pay rates up by over 20% in the last two months. We’re hearing stories of competitors putting rates up by 40%.”
The company has also introduced more flexible shifts, understanding that not all drivers want to be away from home five nights a week. It has made a major investment in in-house and external training too. Despite all these measures, however, it still hasn't managed to fix the underlying problem. "That's where we look to government to try to support the sector," Granite said, "and there's lots of things we believe government can do, and do much faster."
Arguing that UK logistics businesses need access to a bigger labour pool, for longer than three- or six-month work visas allowed, Granite also urged government to increase capacity for driving tests, as he said the recently announced increase in testing capacity is not currently being experienced by companies like his on the ground.
As well as being Chief Executive of Abbey Logistics, Granite holds a secondary role as chair and founder of a not-for-profit organisation called Think Logistics, which was set up in 2014, and is supported by Logistics UK. This organisation recruits volunteers from employers and arranges for them to go into schools and further education colleges to help young people understand the range of opportunities available within the logistics sector, with presentation materials provided.
In his role as Think Logistics chair, Granite said while there had been good collaboration within the sector, there had not been a lot of government support. “It’s time to change perceptions of what logistics is about, it’s not just HGV drivers,” he said, "I'm an accountant myself. There are marketeers, HR, warehouse roles, every job you can think of can be done in logistics." To get involved in the work of Think Logistics visit https://www.think-logistics.co.uk.
SKILLS MINISTER CHAMPIONS A MORE RESPONSIVE TRAINING MODEL
Alex Burghart MP was the last panellist to speak, acknowledging that he was new to the skills portfolio, having been appointed Skills Minister just weeks earlier.
The Minister said the Department for Education was currently in the process of setting up a major expansion of its HGV bootcamp, which he described as “a step in the right direction”, while conceding it would not solve all of the logistics sector’s problems.
“The sheer volume of interest we’ve had from the public since we said we were going out to tender for new contracts to run these programmes has been huge,” he said, “There are people out there who want to do the job, they want the training in the new way that we’re putting forward and it’s a good reminder to us of what we can do.”
As Minister for Skills he said his role was to ensure that everyone, at any stage of their career, has the opportunity to move up to the next level. Those with Level 2 qualifications have a lifelong entitlement to acquire Level 3 training in technical skills, while a lifetime loan entitlement, which will be coming online shortly, will enable people with Level 3 qualifications to acquire Level 4 and 5 skills. He also highlighted how apprenticeships, including degree-level apprenticeships, are helping people move on to highly-skilled work.
On Level 2 training, he said: “I absolutely want to respond to Elizabeth’s challenge, because we can’t forget about the people who have never been able to get adequate qualifications at Level 2. About 20% of 20-year-olds have not got English and Maths at Level 2 and that’s a major barrier to employment.”
While there are some courses available through adult learning, he said he understood the need to complete that part of the picture to create a skills and work environment in which everyone, regardless of the stage they are at, can progress.
The Minister said the department was trying to build a more responsive training system that understands both the needs of businesses and the needs of individuals.
“Once you build that responsive system, then you have courses that are better tailored to local need, that are proving to local students and local providers that there are decent pathways forward and that’s good for everybody,” he said.
This more responsive system would be more aware of the needs of local businesses and encourage progression at each stage.
“There will always be a need for lower-skilled workers,” Burghart concluded, “although over time we hope that there will be more automation and the nature of lower skilled work will change as a result. What we don’t want is a long-term situation in which people get stuck in lower-skilled work when they don’t want to be. That’s what my department is fighting to change.”
A recording of the panel discussion, delivered in partnership with Conservative Home, is available to view on You Tube on the link below.
Published On: 07/10/2021 16:00:19