The government must act quickly if targets for electrical vehicles are to be met

6 Mar 2022, 6:00

We are on countdown to 2030, when no more new petrol and diesel cars will be allowed – but apprenticeships are lagging, writes Sue Pittock

At the conclusion of the Commons passage of the skills bill, the government said the new “future skills” unit within the Department for Education will give schools data to show the opportunities apprenticeships can offer to students.

The bill also gives statutory backing to the local skills improvement plans (LSIPs).

These will be additional recipients of the apprenticeships data and we can confidently predict that green apprenticeships will feature strongly in nearly all areas’ plans.

That’s despite there being currently, and wrongly, no formal requirements in the bill for LSIPs to consult the independent providers that offer them.

However well-intentioned these measures are, I felt a little sceptical about their real value, as I showed shadow skills minister Toby Perkins and local MP Dame Margaret Beckett around Remit’s two automotive academies in Derby this week.

Many of our 1,900 apprentices are now being trained in our academies to help fill the huge skills gap in electrical vehicle (EV) maintenance for cars, vans and trucks, in addition to their core light- and heavy-vehicle programmes.  

The reason for my scepticism is that we don’t need to be told by government that in six to 12 months’ time there will be huge demand for qualified EV technicians – we already know!

Local and national sector skills forecasts have been available from commercial suppliers for many years.

Global brands, especially truck manufacturers, are knocking on Remit’s door now for support.

Some are investing heavily in their own training to keep trucks and vans on the road, and Britain supplied with the food and goods it needs.

According to the Institute of the Motor Industry, only six per cent of the current 250,000 technicians in the automotive sector are EV qualified.

But the country needs 90,000 qualified by 2030, when no more new petrol and diesel vehicles will be allowed on the country’s roads.

On the face of it, this might appear to be good news for us as a provider wanting to keep our academies full.

But the government really needs to wake up to the implications of all this for apprenticeships.

The government really needs to wake up to the implications of this target

Many leading car and truck manufacturers would prefer to see more apprenticeships as the solution to filling the EV skills gap.

However, a lack of urgency in the government’s response to the issue means that training providers and employers are choosing to train with alternative EV qualifications instead.

Faster action is therefore required to introduce apprenticeship standards that are much more tailored to meet the demand for EV technicians. This is particularly needed for heavy vehicles.

The incomplete funding band review for apprenticeships by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is already two years old.

The spectre of high inflation means that government must act now to lift funding rates to cover significantly increased operating costs.

These costs include higher salaries for automotive tutors when demand for their experience and expertise is soaring.

Independent training providers in the automotive sector do not receive any capital funding from government to support the substantial investment needed for state-of-the-art training academies – even further education colleges are struggling to make training for the sector sustainable.

More investment in facilities and up-to-date equipment will dry up if operating and eligible costs are not addressed properly by the funding rates.

In short, £4,000 for each apprentice per year simply is not enough to meet running costs and make the required capital investment.

Why does this matter? Remit could scale down its automotive apprenticeship programmes and concentrate instead on commercial training.

Just as Toby Perkins said during the skills bill debate, we believe that apprenticeships are “the gold standard”.

Our vehicle manufacturer customers want the choice of their technicians gaining the knowledge, skills and behaviours within a high-quality apprenticeship programme.

So, if the government is serious about green apprenticeships, it needs to worry less about plans and future skills forecasts and act on what really matters.

Otherwise, if ministers are happy to simply rely on commercial training, the 2030 EV target poses a considerable risk to keeping vehicles roadworthy.

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