Is the sector suffering from a lack of young talent? autotechnician investigates…
Have you noticed how ‘experienced’ everyone looks in garages these days? Seasoned – even distinguished? Are all the youngsters working hard, hiding under cars, or more worryingly, are we not bringing them in?
ARE FRESH FACES A RARE SIGHT THESE DAYS?
Why do younger staff appear to be so thin on the ground in garages?
IMI chief executive Steve Nash believes the industry is being hurt by cautious recruitment half a decade ago: “Our sector has seen tremendous success over the past 4-5 years, with record sales, which fed demand for aftersales services. Whilst there is high demand for people to fill roles right across the business, the shortage of technicians is particularly acute. The drop off in recruitment during the recession, most particularly of apprentices, has caught us out.”
The industry, as a whole, employs 11,000 apprentices each year, so we are obviously getting them in. According to the IMI, a well-recruited apprentice can earn a business a 150% return on investment within their training period, and many businesses understand that. According to Steve, the immediate problem is a lack of already qualified but junior technicians: “Apprentice recruitment levels are at an all time high but this is clearly a long-term solution to an immediate problem. On a more general level, we have a big job to do to be more competitive with other sectors in attracting young talent.”
The IMI says recruitment levels are at an all time high.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better: “We face a demographic dip over the next few years with the number of school, college and university leavers going down. All businesses will fiercely
compete for the talent available. This is why the IMI is working together with the NFDA on a
joint-campaign to raise the profile of automotive careers and to do more to fill the talent pipeline.”
Will the introduction of the government’s new Apprenticeship Standards programme help?
“Apprenticeship Standards gives employers more responsibility as they have greater power to choose which training provider they would like to use to train their apprentices,” explains Steve.
“However, whilst we are working with many groups of employers on the development of new Standards, there is currently only one Standard for the entire automotive retail sector – Light Vehicle
Level 3 Technician. Many employers aren’t aware that it’s their responsibility to develop new Standards that support the rest of the sector and the variety of occupations within. We’re currently
working with employers across the sector to help them understand the changes.”
Under the bonnet, under supervision at Cheltenham & Gloucester Autocentre.
So what’s the view like from the workshop floor? Martyn Langbridge, owner of Cheltenham & Gloucester Autocentre: “There’s definitely not the number of young people coming through to the
trade like there should be. There seems to be resistance from the trade to employ these young people and there is resistance and a lack of basic numeracy/ literacy skills on the part of young people.”
It seems to be getting worse and I think somebody has got to buck the trend – schools can play a big part. They seem to promote everything but the motor trade. Then the training on offer in colleges is very often not fit for purpose, they come out of it barely able to work on complex vehicles. Finally, the calibre of people coming into the trade is not up to what is required. So, all round, it’s not looking good.”
Martyn believes technician licensing would put the trade on a more even footing with other professions: “We as a trade don’t organise ourselves like engineering does, like the gas industry has done. It’s not seen as worthwhile, rewarding or financially beneficial. “You show me one part of the industry that doesn’t want mandatory licensing. I can’t work on my gas system but I can work on a vehicle that can travel at over 100 miles per hour. The only people that say it shouldn’t happen are the politicians.”
Richard Perriman, workshop manager at New Milton-based Martin Pilley Services:
“We work with our local school, who send suitable candidates on work experience when we ask for them. We normally recruit that way and we’ve had quite a good success rate. Retention is an issue
once they are qualified or finish their apprenticeship though.
“The problem is recruiting ‘fully skilled technicians.’ When we advertise, we don’t get many applicants. What we do get, once you read their CV and interview them, is the realisation that other people’s impression of what constitutes a fully skilled technician isn’t meeting our standards.
“You expect a certain skill level and it’s lacking. We’ve taken on people in the past who are fully skilled on paper, look good and talk the talk – so we give them a go. After a trial period, it’s a case of ‘sorry but you’re just not cutting it,’ because they just do not have the skills required to work on
a modern day car.
“Ones we have retained we are sending on Bosch training courses to boost their skills level. Although they felt they were fully skilled, it was realised that they fell short of the level we needed, but they had the potential and we retained them.
“Ultimately, this comes back to the intake: Schools tend to think ‘Ok you’re good, you can go to university or ‘you’re hopeless and can’t pass any exams, so we’ll send you towards an apprenticeship in the motor trade.’ We need slightly more able people. It’s possible that over time, £9,000 a year tuition fees and rising accommodation costs may inhibit some from going to university and it may raise the standard of candidates coming into the trade. Time will tell.”
IGA director Stuart James: “Although the last few years have seen increases in the number of apprentice ‘starts’, there is still a skills shortage in the motor industry and some of this has resulted from a funding model which favours lower level apprenticeships.
“This has disadvantaged both the industry and our young people by allowing them to complete apprenticeships without sufficient capability or competence to work on the highly complex motor
vehicles of today. These apprenticeships don’t even provide them with the required qualifications to allow them to become MOT Testers, another automotive occupation where there is a current shortage.
“If we are delivering an apprenticeship that does not provide a young person with the required skills to assess the basic roadworthiness of a vehicle, then it is clear that things have to change.”
Will the new approach to apprenticeships be enough though? “We believe that the new
employer-led standards will, in time, serve to close this skills gap and provide our industry with young people with the right skills to grow into the master technicians of tomorrow,” says Stuart.
“However, it will not be enough to provide high quality employer-led apprenticeships if the young people entering our industry are not of the right calibre. We must all play our part in making sure that our industry – in all its sectors and sub sectors – is seen in the right light by those who influence the career paths taken by our young people.”
THE LURE OF THE LECTERN?
“In 2015, over half a million people accepted places at UK universities – some of these may well have been the kind of people we need in the motor industry, but our industry suffers from a perception problem. However often we say ‘technician,’ parents, teachers and young people still think in terms of a low skilled ‘mechanic.’ We know that this is far from today’s reality.”
Stuart adds: “Only by demonstrating high standards in everything we do and ‘talking up’ the industry will we start to change that perception so that a vocational path into the motor industry is seen as an aspirational alternative to a university degree.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
“I’ve recently taken on three apprentices and they’ve
all been very good, keen lads all wanting to learn and
work hard, but I think we’ve been very lucky. A good
relationship with a training provider is a must, explain
you want quality applicants and that you will put effort
in to benefit them in the long-run.” – Jack A
“There needs to be more financial assistance while
supporting and teaching apprentices costs your
business, it’s the retention of the individual that seems
to be my problem. They then just chase the money.”
– Kevin H
“The main problem with our industry is that we are
still seen by many, and our government, as grease
monkeys… Our local high schools offer motor vehicle
studies and health and beauty courses to kids opting
for GCSE’s but they are aimed at the less intellectual,
who might not do so well in traditional subjects. I
believe you need to be fairly intelligent to work on,
diagnose and repair modern vehicles. The double
edge sword comes when the motor trade becomes an
undesirable option to more technically able candidates,
as their opinions have been set in line with these
views. In other countries, motor technicians are highly
regarded, and it is seen as a respectable career. Until
views are changed here, there will always be a struggle
to find high calibre apprentices.” – Anthony W