Any ‘state of the nation’ conversation between franchised dealers at industry conferences or awards dinners these days almost
invariably encompasses the subject of technician shortages.
Every dealer has anecdotal evidence of how hard it is to recruit and retain high-quality technicians, but there is an absence of actual statistics on the subject – which perhaps reflects the underlying causes of the problem facing the industry.
Guy Liddall, managing director of motor industry recruitment firm Motor Trade Selection, said: “As an industry, we have to take the skill shortage as our problem. If we can’t attract , then we’re doing something wrong.”
Over the past couple of decades, the focus of the nation’s education system has largely been on preparing pupils for higher education. This has been exacerbated by shortcomings in career guidance. Research from the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) earlier this year found 50% of young people surveyed had not received careers advice. Of those who had, 36% of 15-year-olds said the quality of the information was average, at best.
However, following initiatives such as the apprenticeship levy and calls from bodies such as the IMI for greater standards, apprenticeships are on the agenda again.
Toyota is just one of a number of companies investing in their provision. Paul Craven, general manager of the Toyota Academy, said: “The issues our dealers face with attracting and retaining trained staff are affecting the industry as a whole.
“We recruit around 100 apprentices per year, but at the same time our dealers experience a similar rate of attrition for their existing qualified technicians.
“We continue to promote the automotive industry to schools and colleges, providing clearly defined career paths from apprentice to fully qualified technician.”
The problem is deep-seated, said Liddall: “We have not been attracting enough good people into the industry, we have not been training them, we have not been creating enough good apprenticeships for a very long period of time. And if you think it’s bad in workshops, then you need to look in bodyshops, because there it’s chronic.”
Remuneration and retention initiatives are becoming increasingly important to prevent mechanics moving on.
Craven said: “As a result of the lack of trained technicians in the sector, we have seen overall pay levels increasing, as dealers try to attract and retain the best qualified staff. To counter this, some of our network have their own staff retention schemes, with clear motivational or financial incentives in place.
“I have heard of company cars for technicians, although it’s at best a neutral incentive, because they get taxed very heavily on it,” said Liddall.
“The issue for dealerships is that I suspect every empty ramp costs dealerships something like £3,000 a week. That’s £12,000 of gross margin they lose a month to have an empty ramp. They have enough incentives to fill these ramps. But for whatever reason, they struggle at times to fill shortages because they don’t have the flexibility and the ability to see that by maybe increasing pay and incentives, they can bring a few extra in.”
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), emphasised that training the technicians of the future in sufficient numbers requires cooperation between industry, government and schools.
“The automotive industry has already invested heavily in apprenticeships and training for existing staff to grow and develop a new generation of skilled workers,” he said.
“However, even more support is needed. The struggle to fill vacancies is holding back growth and opportunities for business, and it is essential that both the Government and industry work together quickly to identify ways to plug this gap. Future schemes must focus on quality, not just quantity – and more support is needed to promote STEM subjects in schools.”
Technician trade show
If you want to find technicians who are looking to improve themselves, attending next year’s series of Mechanex trade shows should be worthwhile.
Pick up a copy of Talent Selection and Onboarding Tool Kit: How to Find, Hire, and Develop the Best of the Best by Erika Lamont and Anne Bruce for ideas on recruitment and retention best practice.
IMI technician Advice
IMI Autocity provides impartial careers information and advice on careers in the retail motor industry. A good direction to point anyone looking to
become a technician.