While much attention has been focused on the latest unemployment figures, the FTA is concerned that the status of European workers within the logistics sector is still to be settled in the ongoing Brexit negotiations.
The FTA wants the Government to clarify the working position for European employees after the UK leaves the EU, to provide some stability for a sector already facing significant skills gaps across key roles.
“Logistics is the nation’s unsung hero industry,” explained Sally Gilson, the FTA’s Head of Skills, “which keeps food on the shelves, medicines in our hospitals and raw materials in our factories. Logistics businesses keep Britain trading.
“But this situation could change drastically if the Government does not allow continued access to seasonal workers. Some 43,000 HGV drivers, 30,000 van drivers and 113,000 warehouse EU workers currently help keep the supply chain moving. However, due to the seasonal nature of logistics, access to temporary staff is crucial. We know the plan for those EU workers wanting to gain settled status, but not for those who come to the UK for seasonal work.
“Employers need clarification on who they will be allowed to employ, and the work these staff will be eligible to undertake, now, rather than in March 2019. And with a significant shortage of available British staff to take up the slack – there are currently more than 52,000 vacancies for HGV drivers alone – it is clear the logistics industry would be unable to move the goods and services the nation needs if the Government’s Brexit plan does not allow access to seasonal workers from the EU. Preventing them from working would create a fracture in the supply chain which could not be mended easily.”
One of the solutions to the skills shortage in logistics could be the provision of apprenticeships via the Government’s levy system, to help employers recruit new staff.
But Sally Gilson believes this is a flawed argument: “Logistics is being seriously hindered by a lack of specialist, appropriate apprenticeships. Although the sector has worked hard to develop appropriate qualifications, the process is being prolonged by the Institute for Apprenticeship’s bad administration. We have been waiting for vital new standards to be approved for a year now and, without them, businesses are prevented from spending their levy monies appropriately. The Government’s own target of three million apprenticeship starts will continue to be unattainable until the apprenticeship system is overhauled to deliver what business needs.
“Logistics operators will do everything in their power to keep the nation’s trade flowing after Brexit, but must have access to the staff to actually do the jobs as required. Without them, the supply chain is set to fracture and disintegrate.”