The Federation of Wholesale Distributors is advocating to reform the government apprenticeship levy.

The key proposed changes focus on flexible skills-based courses, quicker processes around updates such as tech and HGV training, and shorter off-the-job classroom training requirements.

Whilst the Flexible Skills Fund would allow wholesalers to design courses and apprenticeships that are bespoke and adequate for the skills deficit across the sector, removing the six-hour weekly classroom training would relieve a significant cost burden on wholesalers on top of the levy.

Clare Jackson, senior learning and development lead at Sysco GB, said the reform should also include covering costs of exams and equipment, which are not covered under the current scheme and are a significant barrier for thousands of apprentices, as the sector strives to keep diversity and inclusion central.

She stressed the importance of “commercial viability” of the schemes, from giving people bespoke training catered to different roles from warehouse operator to sales director, to reducing timescales of training.

Sysco GB’s current apprenticeship pot of £2.8m, according to Jackson, could in turn generate “tens of millions of sales”.

Responding to the FWD’s appeal, Labour’s shadow food minister Daniel Zeichner said the unused apprenticeship fund could be used as “potential resource” to solve challenges to the food distribution chain, including fruit picking and wider supply issues, which have made headlines this year.

Zeichner told The Grocer the mission-based approach put forward by Labour could “finally break down some of the barriers between different parts of government” to tackle environmental, social and operational issues brought forward by the FWD.


James Bielby, FWD CEO

FWD CEO James Bielby highlighted the key role the wholesale sector plays within the wider economy, not just as the “backbone of food distribution in the UK”, but also contributing £3bn gross value as well as creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

“We believe the need to expand the apprenticeship levy to a wider skills levy, to stimulate greater investment in skills training and supporting the workforce of the future, is absolutely vital,” said Bielby.

The current apprenticeship levy functions by requiring large firms, which spend at least £3m on their annual payroll, to dedicate 0.5% of this amount to training arrangements for apprentices, which is topped up by an extra 10% from government. Smaller companies also receive assistance from government in training apprentices.

Funds that are not used by levy-paying employers within 24 months expire and are handed back to the government.

The proposed reform was discussed at a parliamentary reception, organised by the FWD on Tuesday, to discuss the future of the apprenticeship levy for the wholesale sector with MPs and ministers.

The reform would help bridge the current gap, after £2bn of the scheme was returned to the government between 2018 and 2021 due to firms being unable to use the funds on apprenticeships.