Minding the apprentice gap

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Apprenticeship Week took place at the beginning of March to promote the usefulness of apprenticeships in delivering new recruits into industry. Yet in the logistics sector, which of course urgently needs new recruits, just 4.3 per cent of employers use apprentices – half the all sector average of 8.8 per cent. Logistics apprenticeship offerings need to be examined.

By coming together in an industrial partnership with the government, employers can take real ownership of the skills system and the ‘voyage’ of individuals using their skills. In this way we can fix the skills challenges that we face in our sector together. Employers in other sectors are showing the way.

The Richard Review – an independent report by entrepreneur Doug Richard – called for improvements in the quality of apprenticeships and to make them more focused on the needs of employers. Responding to this call, the government published in March the first new apprenticeship standards developed by its eight Phase 1 Trailblazers: leading large and small employers and professional bodies in the sectors of aerospace, automotive, Digital Industries, electro-technical, energy and utilities, financial services, food and drink manufacturing and life sciences and industrial sciences.

These employers have been working together to design apprenticeships for occupations within their sectors to make them world-class. These simple standards – based on employers telling government what apprenticeships should do and how they should do it – will form the blueprint for the new apprenticeships. The government is expanding the Trailblazers to develop apprenticeship standards in a range of other sectors.

A further apparent barrier to apprenticeship take up is that they start at National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Level 2, which is GCSE grade A-C equivalent. This may be a big leap for many potential new entrants to the Logistics Sector who would benefit from what is effectively a Level 1 qualification – a ‘pre-apprenticeship’, if you like, which starts individuals on the apprenticeship journey and then onto a career progression pathway.

Traineeships are the government’s idea for such a pre-apprenticeship. While apprenticeships are open to all ages, Traineeships are for young people only and the important element behind them is that they involve unpaid work experience – participants still claim unemployment benefit. They give individuals very basic skills so that while they may not be occupation ready, they will be work ready.

Traineeships offer massive value from the outset. I believe they are potentially a great way by which we can attract young people into the logistics sector – before they start working at the local coffee bar.

But the key to Traineeships and what sets them apart from classroom learning will be the work placements; getting work placements and allowing a 16 year old onto the work premises will be a big challenge. Here again is an opportunity for employers to take ownership.

There is little guidance on what makes a good work placement – some has been issued by the National Apprenticeship Service. However, as I have already told the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), I think we can make a difference here. We need to do two things:

We need to ensure that logistics employers are supported in developing work placements for young people, which at first sight may seem like an onerous task. However, Skills for Logistics will create the framework, guidance, advice and people on the ground that can help devise what a work experience placement could look like so that it complies with the need of the Traineeship.

Secondly, SfL can work with logistics employers through the Local Logistics Community Networks (LLCNs) so that the companies, depending on their size, can offer at least three work placements a year. Logistics is a significant employer – particularly in the areas where LLCNs operate. If logistics companies show they can do this, then they deserve support from the government. For example, many companies will not have much experience of engaging with young people and will need help with this.

SfL is now working on Traineeships as a project and we have told the SFA that if they will fund this, we will make it happen and employers will get involved in Traineeships and the entire project will get the project off the ground.

By normalising industrial partnerships in our sector, we can work together to fix the skills challenges that we face. With the challenge of attracting young people into our sector being one of the top general concerns expressed to us, there is real value to be gained from Traineeships from employers and we want your support also, so please get in touch with us at SfL and get involved.

* Ross Moloney is chief executive officer at Skills for Logistics.

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