Features & Interviews

Train to gain: apprenticeships in road transport

17 February 2022 #Features & Interviews

Apprenticeships have traditionally been aimed at secondary school leavers, however they are increasingly being proved useful to plug skills gaps in their workforce and help existing employees to upskill.

This year National Apprenticeship Week celebrated the contribution that hundreds of thousands of apprentices make to the UK’s road transport industry every year, with its ‘Build the Future’ theme, focussing on how apprenticeships help people develop their skillset for a rewarding career while benefitting businesses and the wider economy.

Fleet management specialist Rivus plans to recruit 28 apprentices in heavy goods, light commercial and electric vehicle technicians across its recently merged operations, which incorporate Pullman Fleet Solutions and Rivus Fleet Solutions.

The apprenticeship scheme offers a three-year programme, combining on-the-job workshop experience with theoretical and practical learning.

Rivus has a partnership with automotive apprenticeship provider Remit Training, which delivers classroom-style education alongside mentoring and support.

Apprentices also benefit from education blocks at Remit’s training academies, which provides the latest equipment and peer-to peer engagement with fellow Rivus apprentices.

Victoria Knight, HR Director at Rivus, said: “We strongly believe that investing in and growing a strong talent pool from scratch is key to overcoming the current skills shortage in the industry and means we can be fit for the future.”

Last year, an advert for 10 HGV delivery driver apprentices by Nationwide Platforms, which hires out powered access machines, attracted no fewer than 2,500 applicants.

As well as becoming qualified drivers, successful apprentices learn how to load, unload and operate the company’s powered access machines that it delivers to clients across the country.

The apprenticeship programme lasts 12 months and staff can be fully qualified HGV drivers in about five months.

James Clarke, Head of Haulage for Nationwide Platforms said: “This is the first time we have appealed for this many HGV apprentices at once and we have been overwhelmed by the response.

“HGV driving is a highly skilled profession and by offering a competitive package along with favourable working hours we’ve been able to attract a wide range of candidates from all kinds of diverse backgrounds and experiences.”

Moody Storage and Logistics, based in Cramlington, has created its own driver apprentice scheme for apprentices to gain their Class 2 licence within four months, as opposed to the 12 to 18 months it takes under the official government-backed scheme.

As part of its programme, Moody has also helped more experienced apprentices gain their Class 1 licences, such as former insurance broker Michael Weightman, 52, and Ray Armstrong, 36, previously a transport manager and taxi driver.

Caroline Moody, Managing Director at Moody Logistics and Storage, said: “People of all ages and backgrounds are enthusiastic about becoming HGV drivers and see it as a relevant and rewarding profession.

“All that is required is an employer prepared to support their development.”

Meanwhile, logistics firm Wincanton has offered apprenticeships since 2017 and currently has 367 staff on an apprenticeship, representing 1.8% of its workforce.

With more than 70 programmes from Level 2 to Level 7, including degree apprenticeships, it has opportunities in business technology, finance, continuous improvement and HR, as well as supply chain and engineering.

The age of its apprentices spans from 18 to 68, and the firm ensures apprenticeships offer a wide range of levels and contracts.

Wincanton is also looking to diversify its workforce, currently with women comprising 6% of its driver apprentices, as opposed to an industry average of 1%.

James Wroath, CEO of Wincanton, said the firm continually tailors its schemes to plug skills shortage gaps and has recently recruited more HGV driver apprentices.

He added: “Wincanton apprenticeships are available at all levels and offer many skills.

“However, we are particularly proud to support our colleagues with entry level skills to acquire a valuable profession which leads to a strong career pathway.”

Ballymena bus manufacturer Wrightbus this month confirmed its plan to recruit up to 30 new apprentices in roles ranging from electrical, spray painting and welding to coachbuilding, driveline and engineering.

Wrightbus has worked closely with the nearby Northern Regional College to develop and implement its apprenticeship programmes at Level 2, Level 3 and Higher Level.

Apprentices at the firm receive on-the-job training, working alongside experienced staff who often act as coaches and mentors, along with a college day release programme.

John McLeister, who joined Wrightbus as an apprentice 30 years ago and is now Sales and Business Development Director, said: “We’re proud to say our apprentices are playing a key part in driving the business forward.

“We eventually want to have up to 10 per cent of our workforce on an apprenticeship, via our various engineering and technology higher apprenticeship programmes and our general Apprenticeship Northern Ireland scheme, and this latest recruitment drive will help with that ambition.

“They bring diversity, bags of enthusiasm and a fresh approach to problem solving.”

Sevenoaks District Council currently has four apprentices in senior leadership, internal audit and vehicle maintenance roles. Its two newest apprentices, Mark McAllister and Toby Collister, are both currently undertaking a Level 3 heavy vehicle maintenance and repair apprenticeship, which lasts three years.

Council Leader Peter Fleming said: “Apprenticeships are an exciting option where you get hands-on training and also the chance to put your skills into practice.”

Apprenticeships provide a cost-effective way to train and develop staff, offering hands-on work experience alongside off-the-job training.

With the help of initiatives such as National Apprenticeship Week, they will continue to play a vital role in delivering the skills the road transport sector requires for many years to come.

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