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Driving the economy: what is the future for lower skilled workers?

Elizabeth de Jong, Director of Policy at Logistics UK

At the Conservative Party Conference, Logistics UK hosted a fringe event with Alex Burghart MP, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, where we highlighted our concerns that there is not enough government focus on lower skills training despite lower skilled jobs being critical to the economy. Overall, 67% of jobs in the logistics sector are level 2 or below, which is broadly assessed to be at GCSE standard. In comparison, the national average is 40%. Lower skilled jobs are really important to our sector and we cannot deliver our role in economic productivity without them.

We are all acutely aware that HGV drivers are in short supply, and although this role is high on skill and requires a great awareness of safety and legislation, HGV driving is assessed at level 2. Current estimates are that we are between 70,000 and 100,000 drivers short to meet demand, and in our latest survey 96% of our members are finding it difficult to recruit drivers.

Although we called our fringe event, ‘Driving the economy: what’s the future for lower skilled workers?’, HGV drivers are not the only level 2 roles in short supply. This year, 75% of our members are finding it difficult to recruit for fitter, mechanic and technician roles. Similarly, 75% of our members report difficulties finding warehouse staff, albeit at a less severe level.

It would seem that government’s main provision of free training is for level 3 and above jobs. We, of course, welcome recent changes, such as £10 million for new level 2 bootcamps to fully qualify 4,000 new HGV drivers – and I’ve spoken before about apprenticeship opportunities for level 2. However, we know that the apprenticeship scheme is not meeting its potential. For example, the number of transport apprenticeships starting in the last five years is less than half the original target of 30,000 target set in 2015, and in England only 15% of levy-paying employers in the 2019/20 financial year were fully using the funds available to them.

If we look at the training support available, there is far less funding for level 2 and below roles. The National Careers Service lists thousands of free courses, but only a small minority are at level 2, including two for HGV maintenance, and the majority of courses are at level 3. The National Skills Fund is only for level 3, and Adult Learner Loans are only available for level 3,4,5 or 6 qualifications.

While the Education Skills and Funding Agency funds many courses – including level 2 – these are mainly for those aged under 24 – but many logistics roles could be filled by training those over 24.

These are just some examples from our research of the difference in funding for level 2 and below and level 3 and above. The balance of funding between the two needs debate – what are the reasons behind it and does it need to change. Is this funding balance right for the economy? The annual public funding per university student averages £6,600 compared to £1,050 for adults in further education. Yet, five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate. This, combined with the government’s immigration policy facilitating level 3 and above roles, surely means we need more level 2 training for UK workers.

  We are calling for level 2 courses to be more equitably funded and more readily available. Logistics UK is ready to work with members and the government to create a system designed to meet the needs of the economy, as well as the labour and skills shortages in our sector.

Continue to look out our Skills and Employment Advice Hub at https://logistics.org.uk/skills, which contains advice and information for employers and employees to assist in recruiting or becoming the next generation of employees to this vital sector.


Published On: 18/11/2021 16:00:01


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