Sally Gilson

It’s impossible to ignore that the UK is suffering from skills shortages. Not a week goes by without an occupation being highlighted and a plea to train more people or for access to non-UK workers.

The driver shortage which reached its peak in autumn 2021 is an obvious one for our sector. The good news is that government help through HGV skills bootcamps has seen this stabilise as record numbers have taken their tests.

But since then, a shortage of technicians has emerged which could have huge implications for commercial vehicle firms if we don’t fix it.

Over the last 20 years there’s been a focus on getting more people into universities. This is a good thing but it’s often been to the detriment of vocational training. Non-academic routes are seen by some as inferior so it’s no surprise that so many of the occupations highlighted as having shortages are the ones dependent on vocational training.

These are often treated as second class and aren’t well promoted to young people.

Heavy vehicle technicians have mainly followed a traditional apprenticeship path through the local college. But this has changed. Your local college at best only provides light vehicle training.

Heavy vehicle apprenticeships tend to be residential courses run by a dwindling number of training providers. Vocational training, without the same standing as university routes has suffered from funding cutbacks, and colleges and training providers struggling to keep up with the changing technologies and cost of new equipment.

Over the next five years technicians will likely need to learn how to maintain various types of vehicles from diesel to electric and hydrogen. Without investment in training we will see less and less provision available.

What do we do about it? We’ve been working with the trailblazer group to gain a sustainable level of funding for the Heavy Vehicle Technician apprenticeship.

We welcomed the government’s increase to £20k but it still doesn’t cover the true cost. Unless the apprenticeship is funded at it’s true value of £23k we fear more training providers will leave the market.

Training new technicians is not a quick process, unlike HGV driving it can’t be completed in a 16-week programme. But we could help our qualified technicians by freeing up their time.

Investment in bootcamps for tyre fitters or vehicle inspections could be an interim measure which has the benefit of providing an introductory route into the sector.

Then there’s the qualified technicians already working in the sector that will need upskilling as the numbers of alternatively fuelled vehicles increase.

If we can get a heavy vehicle technician route alongside the new light vehicle technician T-Level we will have a better chance of attracting college students into the HGV, bus and coach route.

We’re working with the Department for Education, Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Transport, training providers, colleges and industry to scope out the best routes.

We’ve long called for Apprenticeship Levy reform which is key to offering the short entry level courses or opportunities to upskilling.

Without new people being trained the technician shortage will worsen, and it will be harder to keep commercial vehicles on the road.

Sally Gilson

Policy manager - skills at the Road Haulage Association (RHA)