Let’s make apprenticeships work

Chief Executive Officer | United Kingdom Warehousing Association

Such is the present government’s enthusiasm for apprenticeship schemes that companies that take on and train apprentices will soon be able to receive up to £28,000 per year in grants and subsidies.

For the logistics industry – which has been wrestling with the problem of how best to address its shortage of adequately skilled workers for far too long – the availability of such enticing levels of funding can only be regarded as positive news.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, laid out how apprenticeship schemes will be partly funded in his 2015 Autumn Statement.

In simple terms, an Apprenticeship Levy will be introduced in April 2017.  The Levy is expected to raise £3 billion by 2019-20 with bigger companies – those businesses whose payroll costs exceed £3 million – contributing 0.5 per cent of their pay bill to it.

Of course, back in the autumn, the announcement of the Levy brought some predictable squeals that it was yet another unwelcome financial burden on business.

I acknowledge that there will be some companies operating in the logistics sector that will see the Chancellor’s plan for the way that future apprenticeship programmes will be funded as little more than a new ‘payroll tax.’

But, on balance, I believe that the majority of logistics specialists will consider the government’s decision to levy big employers for the investment required to nurture and develop young talent – not just for the good of their own businesses but for the benefit of the sector as a whole – as a creative approach that will go some way towards tackling a problem that our industry has done precious little more than talk about getting to grips with for far too long.

But, as we have seen in the past, training schemes can only really be considered to be of use if they deliver workers with the requisite skill sets to benefit their employers and, indeed, to take forward through what will hopefully be a long term career.

With this in mind, it was also pleasing to see that the government also announced that it will establish a new, employer-led body to set apprenticeship standards and, therefore, ensure quality.

Rather than the more usual top-down approach, schemes and standards will be shaped and developed in a structured way by industry, operating independently of government – something that most employers and training bodies will surely welcome.

A new institute will support the quality of apprenticeship standards, building on reforms led by the employer-driven ‘Trailblazer’ programme – an initiative that the United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA) has been closely involved with (along with our members) that will help to ensure that future apprenticeship standards for the logistics industry will be fit for purpose.

So, the government has recognised the issue of skills shortages across many industry sectors – including logistics – and is taking what I believe are encouraging steps to remedy the problem.

It is up to each and every company operating in the supply chain sector to engage with the new era in apprenticeships and take advantage of the tremendous business benefits that ‘upskilling’ the workforce brings.

Speak to Peter and the team on the UKWA Pavilion at Multimodal 2016.  For further information visit: www.ukwa.org.uk