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Halfords CEO Calls on Government to Help Fill Skills Gap

CEO of Halfords, Graham Stapleton, is today calling for the government to consider a number of initiatives that would help ease the nationwide skills shortage that is leading to an extremely challenging labour market:

“Like many businesses, one of the biggest challenges we face is recruitment. Put simply, we can’t get enough qualified technicians into our garages to meet demand. There are parallel issues in many other parts of the economy where large skills gaps are opening up.

 “There are many contributory factors, including the well-publicised issue of older people withdrawing from the workforce through the pandemic. We have initiated a Later Life Apprenticeship programme to attract returning retirees, and this is starting to bear fruit, though progress is slow. We are also focusing on attracting more women and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into automotive apprenticeships.

 “There are three practical steps that would help us – and other employers – fill the skills gap:

 First, the Apprenticeship Levy could be expanded to make it easier to use funds to train existing employees on new technologies. In our case that would mean being able to use the Levy to train colleagues on electric vehicles, advanced driver assisted systems and autonomous vehicles.

 Second, sectors like automotive have been very narrow in attracting new skills. We need to widen our horizons and reach all communities. Awareness programmes jointly sponsored by industry and government could play a big part in that.

 Third, under the current arrangements when a 16-year-old begins an apprenticeship their parents stand to lose some of their benefits. They can no longer claim Child Benefit, or the equivalent Universal Credit allowance. Other benefits may be affected including housing benefit and/or council tax reduction. The apprentice may be able to claim Universal Credit but the net effect on household income may well be negative and it transfers the benefit from the household to the child. There is, therefore, a disincentive for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue the apprenticeship path. If apprentices were treated in the same way as young people in education or training it could have a transformative effect.”