ABC councillors have questioned the wisdom in continuing with an HGV training programme that has resulted in just six people gaining employment so far.
The ABC HGV academy is supporting 80 local people to obtain a licence to drive a heavy goods vehicle and provide them with a job interview at a local firm seeking drivers.
At a meeting of council’s economic development and regeneration committee on Tuesday, members were presented with a report explaining that, to date, 53 people have passed the theory test and 34 people have passed the full practical test.
However, it also notes just six people have secured local employment as a result of the programme with others awaiting paperwork from the DVLA and/or a decision from recent interviews.
Members were also advised it is likely the HGV Training and Employment Academy, which if fully funded by the Department for Communities, will likely be extended beyond March 2023 to ensure as many participants as possible benefit from the support and progress into employment.
Describing the number of people who have secured employment from the scheme as a “concern”, Councillor Kyle Savage asked if there was still demand for HGV drivers from businesses locally.
“We have 34 people who have passed the practical and only six have been successful in gaining employment?” queried Councillor Savage.
“This is a concern, if we are going to open another programme is there still demand for this out there?”
Council’s head of economic development Nicola Wilson explained the scheme has been extended as there is a “huge backlog” in testing and they are trying to get as many people through the scheme as possible.
Councillor Savage said that was essentially his point – is there any point in training all these people if the employment rate at the end is so low?
“Thirty-four people have passed the practical and only six have gained employment. Those figures would suggest there is not the demand for these employees in the wider sector,” he said.
“I find that very hard to believe but with figures like this do we run another programme?
“We need to get to the bottom of this issue. We elected representatives hear it from businesses every day that they can’t get vacancies filled so there needs to be that wider connection with the wider business sector out there.”
Alderman Stephen Moutray reflected on the criteria needed to enter this scheme – an individual has to be unemployed, on low hours or at risk of redundancy – and asked if all those who participated necessarily wanted a job at the end of it.
“I am a bit concerned, we have historically low unemployment rates at the minute,” he said. “Quite frankly I would go as far as to say if anyone wants a job, there is a job for them if they are keen enough to get them.
“Do we need to tweak what we are doing going forward to make it better? Perhaps we need to tweak what we are doing to try and address that.
“In relation to the figures that have been given to us around the HGV scheme, you have to think back, those people had to be unemployed at the start so you have to wonder how serious they were about getting employment at the end of it?
“Those are the difficult questions we have to ask and find a way through so that we are utilising the spend we have correctly.”
DUP group leader, Alderman Mark Baxter said he was initially of the view the HGV scheme would prove to be “very worthwhile” and asked if council could make any changes to its entry requirements in the future.
“There were quite a few people contacting me when it was first brought to council,” he said.
“None of them were unemployed but they wanted to upskill in their own job or to try and move on and improve.
“I think those folk have probably missed out and would have been ideal candidates for that sort of upskilling as they couldn’t have afforded to do it themselves.
“Do we have any control over the access to the scheme or is this something we need to look at again and tweak and put the money into something else where there could be more positive outcomes?”
Ms Wilson advised that as the scheme is fully funded by DfC, the department sets the entry criteria.
“Council’s role is to sit down and make sure industry gets what is required and those that are eligible for the scheme have an opportunity to get a job out of it,” she said.
“We don’t have the ability to change the criteria for access to this scheme.”