After three years in the pilot phase, the not-for-profit Road to Logistics scheme developed by the RHA and Microlise to get people including ex-military and ex-offenders trained as HGV drivers is about to start its national roll-out, backed by a £1m grant from the DfT.

“Road to Logistics will launch at the end of October after we finally got the government to back us,” says RHA chief executive Richard Burnett. “In the next few weeks we will have kick-off meetings with the Microlise team to draw together the Road to Logistics team and put the structure in place to start driving it nationally.”

As well as the DfT funding, in a major breakthrough the government has at last bowed to pressure to let hauliers use money that has been paid into the Apprenticeship Levy; the logistics industry has put in £280m and only drawn down £20m.

“We will be able to access the Apprenticeship Levy to do the actual driver training,” says Burnett. “The government has not been honest at all – they created a lake on money that lots of different industries have paid into and we were concerned we were going to lose that money if we couldn't access it by March this year.

“The reality is that money had already gone. A lot of other sectors are very good at drawing down apprenticeship funding so the construction and manufacturing sectors had already drained the lake. So we have become a donor to all those industries which is an absolute disgrace.

“The Apprenticeship Levy doesn't work to train drivers, warehouse operatives and other frontline staff. There is a question over whether it is even legal which we are looking at too.”

Another criticism of the Levy is the cumbersome bureaucracy required to access funding, and Road to Logistics will hand-hold hauliers through the process.

“We will provide a framework so it makes it easy for operators to understand how they access the money,” says Burnett. “We will put a structure in place and will have people who will be able to help them draw the funding down. We will have to be a registered training provider for those organisations who want Road to Logistics to provide the training and use the funding. The detail isn't worked out yet but government is happy with the principles.”

Champing at the bit

He says there are “plenty of businesses champing at the bit to get involved” and key to making it work will be ensuring the process is “simple and cost effective for our industry”.

“We don't make a lot of money and most of our operators are SMEs,” Burnett says. “As soon as we can create something that is easy and straightforward I think we will get engagement.

“There are pockets of companies doing it really well. Clipper has taken on 600 trainees over the last year which is pretty impressive. But SMEs are really struggling to fund it, only to see the driver disappear somewhere else.

“We are working with hauliers who simply can't afford an apprentice because, unless you have other work a driver can do, they have that period of time while they are getting their licence when they are unproductive. The whole objective is to match people with jobs and businesses and fast-track that training. What we want is almost a hot-house approach to putting drivers through their licences.”

The danger with getting public money to fund driver training is that it could be wasted on inferior training, as the quality of HGV driver training varies widely. The RHA is therefore planning to organise its own training using former MoD sites.

“We are talking to government about using old barracks for intensive on-site training to get people through their licences quicker,” says Burnett. “It won't be called an 'academy' but it will be that kind of approach. We want to create a framework starting with a regional approach.

“If we can work with government - and they are really keen to do this – to set up places where trainees can stay and be fed and watered and be trained for an intensive period then that will be cost-effective using government facilities.

“To start we will be using chosen partners to deliver training but the aim is to have our own driver trainers and vehicles.”

One reason accessing the Apprenticeship Levy pot has been so hard is that it can only be used to fund apprenticeships approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Further Education. At present the LGV driving apprenticeship only takes trainees to the Category C licence while most hauliers need drivers with a C+E.

“This would not qualify as an apprenticeship but the starting block is getting individuals through their licences,” says Burnett. “The government will not pay for licence acquisition – the individual will have to get their licence - but they will fund the training needed to get the licence as part of the apprenticeship.

“We are trying to get the Institute for Apprenticeships to accept that the Apprenticeship Levy can be used for C+E licences because that's what the industry needs. It is a creating a template and now we have the funding we need to sit down and work out how we best do that.”

One approach could be to develop two separate apprenticeships, one leading the Category C licence for urban operators and another enabling drivers to go on and obtain the C+E for long-haul operations.

“We will be drawing down £6,000 from the Apprenticeship Levy to fund each driver,” says Burnett. “It won't pay their wages for a year but, as we get them through the training programme, when they get their licence is the point they become productive. We are trying to get that element funded through the Department of Work and Pensions and through the Justice Department for ex-offenders and veterans so that upfront element gets them their licence. It will then have to be business's responsibility to pay the driver. They will need time away from driving because the apprenticeship will need classroom-based time over the year. We can't expect government to pay for everything.”