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THE UK INTERNATIONAL FREIGHT SERVICES INDUSTRY
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Apprentices more vital than ever in tough times

It’s a tough call, with Covid-19 disrupting many freight forwarders’ daily operations, but now is the time to step up apprentice recruitment, says the British International Freight Association (BIFA).

Just a few weeks ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period, it has been suggested that an extra 50,000 private-sector customs agents will be needed to meet additional demands for customs clearance and a recent survey of BIFA members showed that a staggering 65 per cent feel they don’t have enough staff to cope. 

However, this surge in demand for customs-trained staff has coincided with a sharp decline in the number of apprenticeships starting this year, mainly because of Covid-19. Anecdotal evidence suggests that International Freight Forwarding Apprenticeship starts are likely to be down by 66 per cent.

Forwarding businesses will have many difficult commercial decisions to make, but shelving apprenticeships should not be one of them, BIFA firmly believes.

Director General Robert Keen argues: “It is vital to continue to recruit freight forwarding apprentices and build capacity to start equipping a new generation with the knowledge and skills to face the challenges ahead in the post Brexit and post Covid-19 world.”

The fall-off in apprenticeships is not just a freight industry problem. Government statistics show a sharp fall-off in apprenticeship starts across the entire country. The disruption caused to colleges and businesses meant many apprenticeships were unable to start or continue. However, for the freight industry the issue is even more acute because of the expected upsurge in its workload when the Brexit transition comes to an end in January.

BIFA’s Training Development Manager, Carl Hobbis said: “We are at an important crossroads and we must protect the future of the sector as we step ever closer to the end of the transition period.

He says that the International Freight Forwarding specialist apprenticeship, which BIFA helped create in 2018, is an ideal entry point for the industry with more than 430 apprentices already having taken the pathway, with great success.

The possibilities for online learning through Zoom, MS teams and similar software are virtually endless and the need for social distancing is no barrier to successful education, he adds.

Nor should available finance be an issue. Extra funding is now available as part of the government’s support scheme for training and apprenticeships, with businesses being offered £2,000 for every new under-24 apprentice they hire up to 31 January 2021. This is in addition to the existing £1,000 already provided for new 16-18 year old apprentices and those under 25 with an education, health and care plan. For those aged 25 and over, £1,500 is available.

The Covid-19 crisis will also not prevent National Apprenticeship Week from taking place on 8-14 February 2021. The annual event will shine a light on the amazing work being done by employers and apprentices across the country. Firms of all sizes will show how they have stepped up to the challenge during this unprecedented time.

Carl Hobbis concludes: “Now, more than ever we need to promote the industry and give young people employment opportunities. We have had an apprenticeship standard for international freight forwarding for nearly three years and the sector has been in the news more than ever, so what a great time to encourage someone to consider a career in forwarding and logistics.”

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