Although there is currently a high-profile focus on the demand for HGV drivers in the UK, just as important is ensuring that those drivers have well maintained vehicles, meaning there is also an ongoing and important need for a steady flow of highly skilled heavy vehicle technicians.
According to figures from Logistics UK there are nationally about 30,000 mechanics, technicians and fitters working on HGVs, trailers and PSVs but that unless action is taken, more than half of vacancies will not be filled in the coming years.
Organisations including vehicle manufacturers, dealerships and training providers have come up with a series of initiatives recently as they look to take on and train the best new talent.
This year commercial fleet services company Fraikin started its new heavy vehicle apprenticeship programme, covering its maintenance depots in Iver, Enfield, Central Midlands, Warrington or Glasgow.
Fraikin will recruit a new intake every two years to study for the three-year, Level 3 Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) Heavy Vehicle Apprenticeship standard and each apprentice will join the programme on a competitive starting salary
This will increase over the three years of the course and into a final consolidation year, before each successful candidate will join the business as a fully qualified HGV technician.
Ant Perfect, Group Talent & Learning Director at Fraikin, said: “This apprenticeship programme is designed to build on the DNA of the business, developing the skills and capabilities of our engineering workforce from the ground up.
“In partnership with colleges across the UK, the classroom element of the course will work in conjunction with more hands-on experience at each apprentice’s local maintenance depot, where they will work with some of the best technicians in the business.
“This is a rich opportunity to learn some life-long skills and most importantly, be part of a great team helping deliver exceptional levels of customer service and maintenance support.”
Meanwhile, Renault Trucks, in partnership with Remit Training, is offering trained light vehicle technicians the opportunity to convert their skills to work on heavy vehicles.
The free, fully-government funded 12-week Heavy Vehicle Skills Bootcamp is designed for technicians currently working with cars, plant, vans or motorbikes, or who have a light vehicle maintenance qualifications.
It includes 12 hours a week of online sessions and tutor-led bite-size virtual classes, which can be done from home during evenings to fit around existing work commitments.
They cover the theory elements of servicing and inspection, electronics, electrical systems within vehicles and bespoke EV awareness and safety.
On completion, there is a guaranteed interview with a local employer, and the practical training element will be completed on the job, such as in a dealer workshop.
Remit plans to recruit more than 500 light vehicle technicians who want to upskill and enter the heavy vehicle sector, onto the bootcamps by the end of this year.
Tony Owen, Commercial Academy Manager at Renault Trucks UK, says that by training the technicians in-house and with Remit’s support, the manufacturer can be sure of the skills that are required.
“The dealers in our network want a stable workforce; they want to bring people into our industry that want to stay”, he added.
“We’re competitive on pay, but there is a shortage of technicians at present, so we are running these courses because the light vehicle technicians we have recruited in this way previously have become some of our most competent heavy vehicle technicians.”
“For the technician, it’s not just about a job now. There is a real opportunity to grow and to see another side of the business, with the potential for further progression in future.”
This year, semi-trailer manufacturer Don-Bur has committed to taking on 15 engineering apprentices as a part of its long-term commitment to training.
The trailer builder, working in partnership with North Staffordshire Engineering Group Training Association (NSEG), says it is looking for people who can demonstrate “the willingness and potential to grow within the business.”
Lisa Blake, human resources manager at Don-Bur said: “Engineering and manufacture relies on skilled associates who may not be readily available without training.
“The new apprenticeship partnership with NSEG gives us a unique, tailored apprenticeship programme that not only identifies high potential candidates but encourages an excellent retention rate after graduation.”
Businesses are also investing in new infrastructure, such as training provider, Total People.
In May the firm opened its new £750,000 bus, coach and HGV training facility at the Wythenshawe campus of The Manchester College.
The site is designed to support current apprentices and employers, and in time, support new skills in green vehicle and electric vehicle technologies.
It includes large roller shutter doors to accommodate large HGV vehicles as well as a new mezzanine area for classroom-based learning.
There are also new mechanical and electrical services installations which provide specialist ventilation, lighting, power and data.
In addition, learners can refine their engineering skills on a Dennis Dart ADL model vehicle donated by one of Total People’s employer partners, First Bus.
Kevin Farricker, engineering manager for First Bus Manchester, which has three apprentices on the Total People programme, said: “The next generation of engineers are now working on the next generation of buses, as electric, hydrogen and other zero-emission engine technologies evolve.
“The need for knowledge and skills to support these vehicles will increase as First Bus and other operators invest in greener fleets to reduce carbon and improve air quality. Facilities like this one provide a tremendous opportunity to build a pipeline of highly skilled bus engineers.”
Motus Commercials sends its HGV apprentices to the DAF training centre at the City of Bristol College and they are usually away for two weeks at a time and attend classes during the week.
Back in the workshop, qualified technicians will ask apprentices questions while they complete tasks to ensure they understand the different components and methods involved.
Paul Stringer, an apprentice HGV technician at Motus said: “During a normal day, I prefer to do engine strips, rebuilding gearboxes and clutches and will work on four or five different trucks to ensure they are back on the road as quickly and as safely as possible.
“My favourite part of being an apprentice are the skills but teaches you time management and organisation. I am now able to plan and stick to a routine, which is very important.”
A shortfall of skilled technicians in the heavy vehicle market is not a new problem, and the disruption brought about by Covid-19 has not helped, with some firms reluctant to recruit extra apprentices in these uncertain times.
However an ageing workforce will continue to leave workshops with gaps for skilled staff, and the most forward-thinking organisations will continue to invest in apprentice programmes.