Much-needed HGV drivers have been left in limbo after a provider’s contract to deliver their training using the government’s flagship skills bootcamp model was suddenly terminated.
Qube Learning has been in discussions with the Department for Education for six months after unforeseen increases in delivery costs made the training for the 16-week course “unviable”.
The DfE this week ended the contract a year after it was awarded. Qube’s owner Claire Capperauld told FE Week that she was “surprised” by the decision and claimed her company had recently been “specifically instructed to contact learners with regards to finishing their training”.
The DfE was tight-lipped about the reason for termination but promised that officials are “working to protect all learners impacted by this situation”.
Both parties have refused to disclose the value of Qube’s contract, or how many learners have been impacted.
Several aspiring drivers caught up in the dispute told FE Week that Qube had previously said that “thousands” were signed up to the course.
Many of the “gutted” and “frustrated” learners enrolled 12 months ago but never received any training. They have slammed Qube for a lack of communication and said they have been “left in the dark” while they miss out on other training and employment opportunities.
During the Covid-19 pandemic the Road Haulage Association (RHA) estimated a shortfall of 100,000 lorry drivers, caused by lockdowns, a boom in online shopping and a post-Brexit exodus of EU drivers. It prompted haulage firms to offer generous wages of up to £60,000 and four-figure sign-on bonuses.
By September 2021, the DfE had established HGV skills bootcamps to quickly train truckers and get them on the road. The programme, backed with tens of millions of pounds, is supposed to be a 12-to-16-week course with a guaranteed job interview at the end.
Qube Learning, recently rated as ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted, was one of 24 providers approved by DfE to deliver the “new to HGV driving” bootcamp. It was one of only a handful that was approved to offer bootcamps in multiple locations in every region of England.
Tom O’Sullivan signed up to Qube’s HGV bootcamp last year after leaving a senior role in the NHS due to burn out. He viewed HGV driving as a good career for job security where he could also help an industry struggling with skill shortages.
He was accepted onto the course in February 2022 and month later took part in four webinars. He was then told to go for a medical so that he could apply for a provisional licence and sit theory tests, which he passed in July.
There was radio silence from Qube until December when he received an email to say the provider was preparing to start his training in the new year. He was shocked to receive a message this week telling him there was no way forward.
“It’s super frustrating”, O’Sullivan told FE Week. “I’ve made decisions to not pursue other opportunities because I was doing this. I could have been a year into paid employment by now.”
Liam Millington is another HGV bootcamp learner with Qube who has gone through a similar experience.
“It’s gutting, I’ve been looking forward to obtaining my licence for the past year. I haven’t told my family or friends yet as they were just as excited for me.”
Capperauld said Qube’s delivery model was different to many other HGV bootcamp providers because it outsources the practical training and testing elements to external suppliers.
She told FE Week: “Unforeseen increases in delivery costs since the contracts were issued in March 2022 including increased fuel, energy and staff costs meant that our model was no longer viable.
“We have been in discussions with the DfE since October 2022 regarding these challenges and were surprised that the contract was terminated after they had specifically instructed us to contact learners with regards to finishing their training.”
Qube isn’t the first training provider to raise the alarm about the higher-than-expected cost of delivery for HGV bootcamps. Systems Group Ltd went bust in November blaming inadequate funding levels. Around 2,000 learners, mostly on bootcamps, were impacted.
Capperauld said Qube has “made it clear to the DfE that we will support with learner transition as required”.
The DfE said it is “providing the opportunity for learners to enrol with another training provider so that they can complete their training”.
But an email to affected learners, seen by FE Week, asks that “you do not contact the department and wait for further guidance and instruction – we will email you by Friday 14th April with more information”.
The email added: “If you are contacted by any company regarding delivery of skills bootcamps in HGV driving, practical tests, licensing or similar, please do not take any action. The DfE is not able to reimburse any costs where a learner has elected to self-fund their training.”