FE Week has spoken to industries hard hit by Brexit and Covid to find out what they want from the FE and skills system.
Labour shortages across a number of sectors in roles such as heavy goods vehicle drivers led to fuel shortages and empty supermarket shelves in September.
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation has reported that 95 per cent of its recruitment company members say labour shortages are the single biggest issue across all sectors.
Speaking to the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee last month, the confederation’s chief executive, Neil Carberry, said logistics, for example, had shortages long before the EU referendum, after which the inflow of new workers was “cut off”.
Developed economies such as the UK, US and western Europe are also “trying to return to normal”, following the pandemic, Carberry added.
Following the disruption, FE Week has heard from the logistics, retail and construction sectors on what they want from the FE and skills system to help build their workforce and give their sector the necessary skills.
Speaking alongside Carberry at the select committee was Duncan Buchanan, the Road Haulage Association’s director of policy for England and Wales. The association represents over 7,000 logistics companies.
He pressed upon MPs on the committee the importance of “looking at how we train people at level 2, because an awful lot of our training effort goes into people at level 3 and degree level.
“We need people trained well at level 2 to do a proper job, be those plumbers, lorry drivers or in refuse collection.”
The association’s skills policy manager, Sally Gilson, elaborated on this to FE Week, saying: “Our big frustration has been the lack of funding at that level 2.”
The National Skills Fund consultation, which ran from July to September 2021, was “centred around level 3 and up, which is so short sighted”, Gilson said.
Over 60 per cent of logistics jobs are at level 2, she said, yet apprenticeship figures for 2020/21 released last month show starts at level 4 and above increased by over a fifth on 2019/20.
On funding, Gilson complained a new level 2 urban driver apprenticeship currently under development and intended to train delivery drivers had been set a maximum funding band of
With driver salaries climbing up to heights of £70,000, providers were having to pay trainers more. As such, the RHA is asking for an extra £1,000 to be added to the standard’s funding.
The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education said: “We develop funding band recommendations using quotes from the trailblazer group based on the cost of training and assessment. Trailblazers can request a Procedural Review of our funding band recommendation in line with our published guidance.
“We remain absolutely focussed on recommending funding bands that support good quality and represent value for money.”
One of the tentpoles of the NSF is the skills bootcamps, and after the supply chain disruption, the government announced these would be extended to cover training for heavy goods vehicle drivers.
The Department for Education wants the bootcamps to have up to 5,000 drivers ready as early as next March, but Gilson said it would be a “struggle to get people ready that quickly”.
She said there needed to be a long-term plan for training up drivers, which could mean a “long-term skills bootcamp”.
Another big reform planned by the DfE to the skills system are flexi-job apprenticeships, which would involve new agencies employing apprentices and placing them with multiple employers, so the training meets the 12-month minimum duration.
Gilson expects, with “a lot” of drivers coming into the industry to work on short-term jobs for agencies, the “sector will be able to make use of” the scheme, once it rolls out.
The British Retail Consortium, which represents nearly 200 major retailers, wants to be able to use apprenticeship levy funds for pre-employment and pre-apprenticeship programmes, such as traineeships and sector-based work academies, which both involve work placements.
This is “particularly important”, the consortium says, as research by the Education and Employers Taskforce found 85 per cent of 14- to 19-year-olds who had four or more engagements with employers (such as work experience or careers advice) were five times less likely to be not in education, employment or training than those who had no engagements.
The Confederation of British Industry has also called for the levy to be flexed to allow employers to pay for pre-apprenticeship programmes and short, modular courses.
Levy funds should be available to pay for “high-quality shorter courses, including functional skills”, the consortium said, “where a full apprenticeship is not necessary”.
Apprentices currently have to take functional skills qualifications in English and maths if they have not achieved a grade four, equivalent to a C, at GCSE in those subjects. But that is integrated with their training.
Running the functional skills qualifications on their own could “quickly upskill learners” and be helpful for a “fast-paced and dynamic sector” such as retail, the consortium said.
Levy funds should be available to pay for high-quality shorter courses
To “promote productivity gains” the body also wants to cover a portion of apprenticeship costs incurred outside of training, such as paying employees to cover for apprentices who are on training.
Politicians such as Labour’s Toby Perkins and the Conservative chair of the Commons Education Select Committee Robert Halfon have called for levy funds to be used to pay apprentices’ wages.
Yet the British Retail Consortium believes using the levy to pay other employees for the time they spend covering for apprentices on study days would increase “the ability of employers to take on more apprentices”.
The Construction Industry Training Board, which oversees training in the building sector, says three out of every five of the around 100,000 construction learners in FE do not work in the industry shortly after their training.
This, they say, represents a “vast, untapped potential”, but employers need “better routes” into industry from further education that “provide the right level of work-readiness”, a spokesperson said.
CITB’s policy and government relations manager Ian Woodcroft called getting more FE learners into construction jobs a “big priority”, for which they were working on solutions with government.
This includes a new traineeship programme they are currently piloting, which will mean learners can move on to “accelerated apprenticeships that recognise prior learning in specific construction occupations”.
They are also following the development of Local Skills Improvement Plans, which eight different chambers of commerce are trailblazing until next March and will eventually be rolled out around the UK in the hope that FE provision is brought closer to local employer needs.
Woodcroft also highlighted the apprenticeship levy pledge function, which allows levy-payers to transfer up to a quarter of their levy funds each year to other businesses, to pay for their apprenticeship training and assessment.
“This is already proving to be successful and will allow more construction employers to access apprenticeship levy funds to train their future workforce,” he said.