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The haulage industry has issued a cautious welcome to the news that the UK government has approved an apprenticeship scheme for truck drivers – but says commitment to funding is crucial.
Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett said a meeting yesterday with skills minister Nick Boles was “positive but challenging”.
“The positive news was that the minister confirmed that the LGV Trailblazer Apprenticeship has been approved.
“The challenging area concerned the need to convince government that the apprenticeship funding must cover the cost of training for the licence acquisition and for an emergency £150m funding package to be made payable direct to hauliers.”
The haulage industry is facing a shortfall of some 50,000 drivers, and while the panic reported by the fear-mongering Sun newspaper – announcing that supermarkets may run out of food by Christmas – seems unlikely, the scheme will offer a welcome boost to the struggling industry – if it comes with additional cash.
Sally Gilson, skills development manager for the FTA, told The Loadstar she was pleased that the government had accepted the scheme.
“However, the main issue now is that government won’t confirm that the actual licence acquisition training will be funded within the apprenticeship.
“To fully encourage and make the apprenticeship viable to all, it’s vital that the funding covers the costliest part of the training. Otherwise you could see the apprenticeship taken up by those who are affected by the apprentice levy only, or those who have already been engaged with apprenticeship programmes.
“If apprenticeships are going to grow in number, the whole system needs to be made simpler and less bureaucratic for smaller companies.”
Arguing that a funding package would more than pay for itself through additional fuel duty and tax, Mr Burnett added: “An apprenticeship which failed to cover the training costs associated with licence acquisition is about as much use as a truck without an engine.”
Training companies also welcomed the apprenticeship scheme, but similarly warned of the need for additional funding. Gary Benardout, co-founder of HGVtraining.co.uk, called for £25m.
“The lorry driving apprenticeship scheme is very welcome news in principle, but to really make this work [we are] calling on the government to commit at least £25m to create 25,000 new drivers. There can be no half measures when the driver shortage is at crisis point. We hope that the severity of the situation is reflected in the government package – it must be more than just a gesture.
“We know that that the appetite for a career in HGV driving exists, but that people – and particularly young people – need more encouragement to take the plunge. It’s not just about money either: one of the main barriers to people joining the industry is its image, which is why education … is so important.”
The Trailblazer apprenticeship scheme for hauliers had been rejected twice previously, as the government did not agree that training would take 12 months. A supply chain apprenticeship was approved in July.
Existing apprenticeship schemes and funding will cease in September 2017, to be replaced by the industry-developed Trailblazers.