While much attention has been focused on the latest overall UK unemployment figures, published last week by the Office of National Statistics, the association which represents businesses in the nation’s supply chain is concerned that the status of European workers within the UK’s logistics sector, and elsewhere in vital industries, is still be settled in the ongoing Brexit negotiations.
FTA, which represents more than 17,000 logistics businesses nationwide, is calling on the government to provide clarification on the working position for European employees after the UK leaves the European Union, in order to provide some stability for a sector already facing significant skills gaps across key roles.
“Logistics is the nation’s unsung hero industry,” explains Sally Gilson, FTA’s Head of Skills, “which keeps food on the shelves, medicines in our hospitals and raw materials in our factories – as consumers, we just expect goods and services to be in place when we need them. In fact, logistics businesses keep Britain trading. But this situation could change drastically if the government does not allow continued access to seasonal workers. 43,000 HGV drivers, 30,000 van drivers and 113,000 warehouse EU workers currently help to keep the supply chain moving. However, due to the seasonal nature of logistics, access to temporary staff is crucial and this gap has been filled by many EU workers. 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 – the ones which businesses rely on to keep goods and services flowing.
“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 that 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 aid employers with recruitment of new staff. But as Ms Gilson continues, 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.”
Efficient logistics is vital to keep Britain trading, directly having an impact on more than seven million people employed in the making, selling and moving of goods. With Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc. A champion and challenger, FTA speaks to Government with one voice on behalf of the whole sector, with members from the road, rail, sea and air industries, as well as the buyers of freight services such as retailers and manufacturers.