The HGV & Bus and Coach Standards Trailblazer Group has been working with IfATE to rectify a serious funding mishap in 2019 that reduced the funding band from £18,000 to £15,000 for the three-year HGV technician apprenticeship.
Like many other industries, we are operating in a very tight labour market. It takes nearly four years to qualify as an HGV mechanic and the job is not only safety critical but essential to our economy to keep our supply chains moving.
The core issue lies in IfATE erroneously categorising virtually every vehicle component, batteries and training rigs as capital funded items even though our trailblazer group has confirmed that the items do not last longer than the duration of the individual apprenticeship.
Contrary to IfATE’s view, most of the items are destroyed through constant use by the apprenticeship within a couple of years. Common sense says that if you strip down and rebuild something 12 times a day – when it was only designed to be stripped down once in its lifetime – it does not last very long. Yet no amount of evidence, engineering reports, photographs or even repeat invoices seem to be able convince officials.
According to IfATE, the required specialist buildings and training rigs such as engines and gearboxes are all ineligible cost items. Funding rules state that a provider can claim for premises if mandatory to run the course, but IfATE are refusing to add these costs. Instead, they say that the costs are covered by the 20 per cent non-teaching costs, which they themselves calculate. As a result, we are left with insufficient funding to pay for specialist training centres.
Skimping on kit literally endangers the public. And the fact that the programme is a loss-maker has resulted in most providers exiting this provision altogether.
The funding process is supposed to be transparent and fair. Our experience is that it is opaque, bureaucratic, and slow. I would go as far as to say it is not fit for purpose and is not providing good value for the taxpayer’s money.
The question we ask ourselves as a trailblazer group is what happens if the training providers do not want to or cannot provide this eye-wateringly expensive equipment. What happens to the day release local college courses that do not have a manufacturer who is willing or able to fund all the training equipment for their apprentices to learn on the right kit?
If those courses exist, the reality is that learners are more likely shown how to do things on cars only, or taught ‘in theory’ and left to do the practical back at the workplace. This is not good enough. It fails our apprentices, our businesses and our economy.
We have invited IfATE officials to come along to a training centre, but they have declined saying ‘they already know’. We have offered them to come to a meeting of our 50-strong trailblazer group to hear the views of the manufacturers, employers, training providers and EPA organisations, but they don’t feel they need to.
The sector route panel may be well-intentioned, but it has no heavy vehicle experience. More than that, the route is enormous and no one panel can really make good decisions in these circumstances.
This has been a very difficult process since the latest review began in October 2022, when it was supposed to be a simple costing exercise driven by an IfATE error. More than six months on, we are left asking ourselves what the point of a trailblazer/employer lead group is if IfATE do not trust and respect the industry and insists it knows best. As wealth creators for the economy, we do not feel valued or listened to.
As we stare down the worst shortage of skilled technicians our industry has ever experienced, it is easy to conclude that apprenticeships, led and funded as they are, are no longer our go-to source of high-quality future talent.
After 30 years of supporting apprentices, that makes me extremely sad. Everyone else should be worried about the implications.