Autumn Statement - The RHA's Asks for Skills
By Sally Gilson RHA Policy Lead for Skills and Drivers
Over the past year, the Skills agenda has been a key priority for us at the Road Haulage Association. Without the next generation of drivers, mechanics, and logistics professionals, it will be impossible for our sector to thrive – and without a successful road transport industry, our economy and our society will also fail to flourish.
We already face a significant skills shortage across all aspects of the supply chain: drivers, technicians, warehouse operatives, coach and HGV mechanics – the list goes on. Without intervention, this will worsen – a quarter of HGV and coach drivers are likely to retire over the next five years, making the need to maintain and increase training levels paramount.
Earlier this year, we published our Skills Manifesto, which condensed our policy aims into three main areas: Attract, Train, and Retain.
As the Autumn Statement draws nearer, we’re continuing to push the Government to recognise the scale of the challenges we face in this area, and commit to the concrete policy shifts that will help ensure our industry’s continued success.
The first order of business is to ensure our sector can attract hard-working, ambitious, and skilled young people. Alongside working closely with schools and further education colleges, we need to work with government to ensure that the Department for Education is properly informing pupils and students of technical and vocational pathways into the world of work, rather than solely championing the traditional academic route. The Department for Work and Pensions must also do more to ensure jobseekers are made aware of our industry.
Training is of utmost importance, and present schemes are not fit for purpose. The Government must commit to reforming the Apprenticeship Levy so that it works better for apprentices and the employers that sponsor them – expanding it to cover shorter and flexible courses.
Pandemic-era Skills Bootcamps have been a step in the right direction, but these need long-term funding and an ongoing commitment to ensure their continued operation. The focus must switch from reactively seeking to alleviate shortages, to setting out a proactive, forward-thinking pipeline which allows employers to plan for expansion in the knowledge that they will be able to get the people they need.
This could potentially be achieved by extending National Skill funding to Level 2 skills in key economic sectors where there are current shortages, such as road freight and logistics.
We must also ensure an uplift in funding for the heavy vehicle technicians course to £23,000 – without that, colleges and Independent Training Providers will simply leave the market.
Finally, our industry must be supported to retain the talent it has. After Brexit, our sector faced an exodus of experienced professionals – primarily EU nationals who found it impossible to deal with the red tape on work and visa rules. The Government must take steps to reintegrate these key workers, alongside improving conditions for HGV and coach drivers through the provision of proper roadside facilities and rest stops.
In our campaigning over the past year, we’ve been gratified to see that many in the present administration share our concerns and take them seriously – this has been particularly evident over the course of last month’s National Lorry Week. But the Autumn Statement is an opportunity for the Government to put its money where its mouth is, and begin the process of real, lasting change.