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© Skypixel

Britain’s supply chains face a major skills shortage, and with the status of European workers post-Brexit still uncertain, the problem could intensify further still.

Nearly 200,000 EU workers are employed in the UK supply chain and Freight Transport Association (FTA) head of skills Sally Gibson wants clarity on their situation post-Brexit as soon as possible.

“Logistics is the nation’s unsung-hero industry; it keeps food on the shelves, medicines in our hospitals and raw materials in our factories,” she said.

“We expect goods and services to be in place when we need them. In fact, it is the logistics businesses that keep Britain trading.”

Of particular concern for the FTA, she says, is the status of seasonal workers, who play a major role. With the UK already facing a shortage of some 52,000 HGV drivers, Ms Gibson and the FTA believe it is “clear” the industry would be “unable” to operate without this workforce.

“Due to the seasonal nature of logistics, access to temporary staff is crucial and this gap has been filled by many EU workers,” she said.

“[But] this situation could change drastically if the government does not allow continued access to seasonal workers.”

Should any deal between the EU and the UK prevent companies hiring EU seasonal workers, the FTA said there were options to address the homegrown skills shortage. One would be provision of government aid for companies offering apprenticeships, although Ms Gibson said even here there were problems.

“Although the sector has worked hard to develop appropriate qualifications, the process is being prolonged by the Institute for Apprenticeship’s bad administration,” she said.

“We have been waiting for vital new standards to be approved for a year, and without them, businesses are prevented from spending their levy monies appropriately.

“The government’s own target of three million apprenticeship starts will continue to be unattainable until the apprenticeship system is overhauled to deliver what business needs.”

While this issue lingers in the background, she added, it was vital that employers were told “now, rather than in March 2019” who they can employ, and for what jobs.

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