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Industry faces dire recruitment crisis

The automotive retail industry is facing an impending crisis over staffing levels, according to a new survey. The Retail Motor Industry Pay Guide 2003, in association with Sewells Information and Research, reveals that 69 per cent of franchised dealers are having difficulty recruiting, and most of these problems - 74 per cent - involve aftermarket staff, primarily service technicians. At independents it is even worse, with 89 per cent of repairers facing a recruitment nightmare.

The problem is exacerbated by the high levels of staff turnover, with technicians again the worst area. The Pay Guide conservatively estimates turnover to be around 18 per cent, although one dealership reported a rate of nearly 40 per cent.

“There are worrying long-term issues for the motor retail trade for the recruitment of young people and the retention of staff, especially technicians, in dealerships,” says Matthew Carrington, RMI chief executive. “We need to address training issues and look to raise the profile of the industry.”

Compulsory licensing of technicians may be one way of boosting the sector's image - a move pushed by the Institute of the Motor Industry. But this is longer-term; the short-term picture remains bleak. Poor apprenticeship recruitment is resulting in an ageing workforce: 20 per cent of mechanics and technicians are over 45 years old.

A shortage of courses offered at technical colleges combined with Government moves to encourage more people to go to university is exacerbating the problem. And of the apprentices that do enter the industry only half are still there five years later.

Alan Pulham, RMI franchised dealer director, says: “If we can't get people to join the industry now, when it is really buoyant, what chance to we have when it goes through the forecast downturn?”

His view is supported by average pay figures. Franchised dealer total pay has increased by an inflation-busting 5.4 per cent over the past year, while at independents it is up 6.3 per cent, on the back of strong car sales.

Franchised dealers' service rates are also rising, up 4.9 per cent to £50.62 an hour - the first time ever above £50 - with several companies within the M25 charging above £100 per hour. Independents are also charging more - £31.58 an hour, up 3.2 per cent.

The RMI Pay Guide, sponsored by recruitment specialists Southgate Consulting, is available from Sewells on 01733 863525.

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