Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Freight Transport and Logistics Groups Back Scathing Report on Training Youngsters

Public Accounts Committee Dissatisfied with Apprenticeship Levy So Far
Shipping News Feature
UK – The Public Accounts Committee has been looking into the Department for Education reforms to the apprenticeships programme, something dear to the hearts of all in the logistics and road transport arena given the paucity of suitable talent and the uncertain future surrounding Brexit, and has produced a scathing report criticising both the history, and the future potential of the system and saying the 'programme is evolving is out of kilter with the Department's objectives'.

The number of apprenticeship starts fell by 26% after the apprenticeship levy was introduced and, although the level is now recovering, the government will not meet its target of 3 million starts by March 2020. One of the major problems is that firms are using the available funds to focus on higher level apprenticeships, consequently more costly, and often schemes which companies would have normally borne the full cost for anyway to advance their potentially more senior staff.

Despite the current underspend the Public Accounts Committee says the signs are that the scheme will now come under ever increasing financial pressure which, coupled with the poor quality of some current training agencies, caused the Chair to comment:

”The number of people starting apprenticeships is falling significantly short of government targets. The government will not meet its goal of 3 million starts by March 2020 and the Department has underspent the programme’s budget by 20%. Ultimately, the lack of progress has disrupted the direction of the programme. The way the programme is evolving is out of kilter with the Department’s objectives: opportunities for people with lower skills are diminishing and apprenticeship starts in disadvantaged communities has fallen.

“What’s more, take-up from under-represented groups has been too low. We are supportive of the programme’s core objective to draw apprentices from a wider range of social and demographic group, but this is at complete odds with its unambitious targets. We are also concerned about the quality of training: a third of apprentices are being trained by providers who have been rated inadequate or requires improvement by Ofsted and there are currently not enough assessors to meet the demand for end-of-apprenticeship assessments.

“The apprenticeships programme has laudable ambitions, but the Department’s poor execution has created serious longer-term problems. The Department for Education must get its reform of apprenticeships back on track, realigning the programme with its initial objectives so that as much of the population as possible can benefit from it.”

The report goes on to make recommendations on how to go about revising the scheme in the hope of suiting it better to purpose. These include: concentrating more on trainees with lesser skills; drawing apprentices from a wider range of social backgrounds; more support for smaller employers; improving the quality of providers or drop them; improving end of course assessments to accurately reflect results.

The report drew immediate comment from the industry with the Freight Transport Association (FTA) Head of UK Policy, Christopher Snelling, saying:

”The Committee is right that adjustments under the Apprenticeship Levy have failed to deliver much increased benefit to the UK’s skills base. FTA believes this is because apprenticeships, whilst great for those to whom they are suited, are not and never will be the total answer to our skills needs. In logistics we are crying out for more skilled workers, in HGV driving and in engineering and yet FTA’s members are only claiming back a small proportion of the money they contribute under the Apprenticeship Levy because apprenticeships are not suited to the training needs of our people or our companies.

“The FTA wants to see the Apprenticeship Levy turned into a Training Levy, with industry able to actually able to use the funds to enable people to join and to progress in our industry and deal with the skills shortage we actually face.”

Meanwhile United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA) offers apprenticeship advice to members on its own website and Chief Executive, Peter Ward reiterated what was said at the organisation’s annual conference when guest speaker, the Real Apprenticeship Company’s Debbie Shandley, pointed out that in 2017 the Levy raised £2.1 billion and that 2018 a similar sum was undoubtedly collected.

£400 million from the 2017 total went unspent, just as the Commons Committee noted, and on 5 April 2019 that cash simply went back into government coffers. Peter Ward commented:

”The UKWA welcomes the report which examines why the Apprenticeship Levy is not working as intended, and this applies particularly to the logistics industry. It is ironic that it is not helping the labour shortage with focus up to now often being principally on ‘high end’ trainees. We are in a situation where, if a 17 or 18 year old turns up to apply for a job in our industry, in many parts of the country he or she will simply be snapped up and employed in a position where the boss needs everybody working flat out.

”In this scenario there is no thought given to day release training etc. The worker learns on the job and is needed for full time employment given the shortage of manpower. Meanwhile larger companies use the Levy as a tax recovery opportunity, using the funds to support senior staff training.

”We need the funds to be better directed, as the Committee points out. Meanwhile we must help ourselves and UKWA is working with its raft of training partners and in house team to develop a Virtual Academy with a view to relieving some of the problems.”

The report can be read in full here whilst a precis is available here, and also the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations here.

Photo: Ms Meg Hiller MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.