Securing funding for logistics apprentices is only half the battle when it comes to solving the skills crisis – getting students and employers talking is also vital. Stockton Riverside College (SRC) on the south bank of the Tees believes that with its Logistics Academy it has created a successful collaborative model for others to follow.

The academy is now in its sixth year, and Michael Duffey, head of construction and professional services at SRC, says the college began to focus on ways to ease the skills shortage in logistics.

“So we got together with local employers to identify both their training needs and a way forward to address skills shortages. We identified a number of key strands which formed the basis of the Tees Valley Logistics Academy: raising awareness of the industry among young people; developing work experience opportunities for college students; providing a range of training opportunities for the sector, including apprenticeships and building higher level skills,” he says “PD Ports were very involved from the start and we have been successful at raising awareness and getting employers into schools. The Year 10 students [age 14 to 15] go away knowing what logistics is.”

The Think Logistics programme lasts almost 18 months, normally from the November of the students first year of A-levels or equivalent, to the March of their second year.

During this time the students would have six ‘masterclasses’ on improving their employability, six workplace visits to logistics operations, have a mentor assigned with a monthly one-hour meeting, and a four-week paid Internship with logistics firms during the summer holidays.

“It not just a course,” says Duffey. “It is a complete package and work experience is a key factor. Thanks to Career Ready and PD Ports we are able to embed that into the programme.”

World of work

Career Ready is a national charity linking employers with schools and colleges to open up the world of work to young people, and Duffey believes that an introduction to the world of work, with visits to work places and mock interviews, is something growing numbers of students really value.

Ian Nichol, head of logistics at Career Ready, says logistics can learn from other industries such as construction, financial services and the health service in promoting career opportunities. “Logistics has no tradition of doing that,” he says. “Employers need to be more proactive. Without that we won’t get first order talent.”

Ruth Cabourne is work-based learning manager for construction and professional services and the Career Ready programme coordinator at SRC. She says: “The outcome could be getting a job or just personal development and having more confidence in interviews. Some students completing the programme have gone into apprenticeships and we have had particular success with the supply chain warehousing operator apprenticeship.”

SRC is keen to offer approved apprentice training schemes that can be partly funded from the Apprenticeship Levy, which has seen the logistics sector pay in £300m over the last two years but only draw down less than 10% of that.

“There is a lack of apprenticeships suitable for logistics so we used team leader or business admin apprenticeships and then progressed to something more specific,” says Duffey. “I hope that does change.”

SRC does not see apprenticeships as an alternative to degrees but rather as a route in to further study.

“We are keen on higher education as well as further education, and we are working with Teesside University on a Level 6 supply chain manager qualification,” says Duffey. “But we have to start at the beginning to get people interested in logistics.

“We have strong partnerships with employers and hope to bring through more apprentices as we engage with more employers.”

Jim French, a former director at PD Ports and past national chairman of the RHA, was awarded an MBE last year for services to young people in transport. He has taken a keen and personal interest in bringing young people into logistics, mentoring a student Alice Briggs while at PD Ports who went on to take an engineering apprenticeship.

Jim and Alice

French with former mentee Alice Briggs

He says: “Stockton has also brought in school careers advisers and made them aware of what the sector offers. It isn’t just students who don’t know what logistics is all about.

“The problem is that this is a very fragmented industry. A lot of employers like Clipper, Devereux, Prestons of Potto and Dawsongroup have got involved but with the low margins many hauliers work on it is difficult for them to focus on where drivers are coming from. Also £5,000 funding for an apprentice is not enough for smaller operators so we need to get the bigger firms involved.”

Duffey agrees: “There are a multitude of obstacles and we can never stop raising awareness among young people. Some companies will pay for the training but if funding is available that is better.

“This isn’t just about warehouse staff and drivers – there are many more roles in logistics.”

Grow your own wood

Mark Taylor, head of learning and development at the RHA, is the current chairman of the Local Advisory Board for the Career Ready Programme at Stockton Riverside College, taking over from French who helped set up the Logistics Academy in 2014.

Taylor points out: “Most RHA members run 15 trucks or fewer. At regional councils we talk about the skills shortage but we are not good at growing our own wood. The Apprenticeship Levy is not suitable for small hauliers.”

SRC is a flagship partner with the national Think Logistics programme set up by Abbey Logistics MD Steve Granite to encourage employers to get involved with local schools to raise awareness of logistics as a career choice. “There are lots of meetings with large employers but we need to meet with SMEs too,” says Nichol. “Is it working? When employers take interns or placements it is a great talent spotting exercise. Longs of Leeds took on an intern from a school in Dewsbury and he set up all their social media in a month. So they will take another intern next year.

“We need more industry volunteers – the doors of schools and colleges are wide open because they are now benchmarked on their careers advice. We want logistics to be the career of choice rather than people just falling into it as the vast majority do.”

Nichol says that taking on students as interns or on work placements is incredibly beneficial for employers, who can learn a lot and often find people they subsequently would want to employ.

Emily Clark, for example, from Bede Sixth Form College, first did an internship at PD Ports and is now working for the company while studying for a degree-level apprenticeship.

“She has just bought her first home and says that would not have been possible without the opportunity with PD Ports through Career Ready,” says Nichol. “She is a fantastic role model for the industry.”

French adds: “PD Ports had taken on four or five interns in warehousing, transport, port operations and containers. Emily came to us at 16 for four weeks and we had to take her on as an apprentice. She chose an apprenticeship over going to university.”

Opening young eyes to the world of logistics

During MT’s visit to Riverside, two young people gave impressive presentations on what their internships had done for them.

Jacob Moat is now an apprentice quantity surveyor with PD Ports.

Jacob Moat

He says: “When I was 16 I had no work experience and wanted to enhance my CV. Career Ready did a great job marketing the programme to my college and I thought it would be beneficial and help get me an internship. I wasn’t sure what career path to take – I was thinking about business management and concluded Career Ready would help me learn about the role and decide on career.

The programme included employability skills seminars, business visits to firms including PD Ports and Bulkhaul and being assigned a mentor. It worked really well and helped separate me from the crowd. At 16 I was naïve about logistics but now I understand what it is and the role of land and property in logistics.

I did my internship at PD Ports and learned different job roles including marketing and estates. I had never had any experience of working in a business environment so it was good to learn how to conduct myself in the right manner. I learned about commercial property and found I wanted to get involved in it. As a result I found employment on an apprenticeship with PD Ports – I never expected a job so it was a dream come true. PD Ports has sponsored me to do my chartered surveyor degree apprenticeship part time over five years. So I still get work experience and get to apply my studies to work and vice versa. I really enjoy my work – learn something new every day.

Five years with an employer is a big attraction compared with going to uni as you don’t know if there is a job at the end. My parents were very pleased when I joined the apprenticeship programme and especially pleased I have a job! There should be no stigma attached to apprenticeships compared with other university degrees. Full time students don’t get the same work experience.”

Lewis Roe, now studying for a BTEC in IT, took a summer internship with Devereux Transport.

He says: “I did an internship in July and August with Devereux Transport after Ruth introduced the idea last year. I had a clear idea of what I wanted and needed work experience on my CV. My interest is cyber security so I was nervous that I wouldn’t get the experience I needed but I learned tonnes about logistics and even helped to set up data systems.

I also helped set up a system for their garage using more up-to-date software and supported them with their social media.

I gained a lot of business skills – at 17 this was my first experience of work. It taught me how to behave in an office and how to talk to people. I have Asperger's and it taught me ‘how to be human’. My mentor would explain things I didn’t understand and that gave me confidence.

I have since got a part-time job working in stock control at Tesco using the experience I gained at Devereux. That will help me fund a university degree and a place to live.”