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Staff shortage tops list of concerns for garages and workshops

A car technician carries out checks on a vehicle

The recruitment and retention of mechanics and MOT testers is set to remain as a key challenge for garages and workshops this year, according to the Motor Ombudsman.

More than two thirds of garages and workshops, accredited by the Ombudsman for the automotive sector, said their biggest challenge was recruiting a sufficient number of mechanics and MOT testers last year.

Bill Fennell, chief ombudsman and managing director of The Motor Ombudsman, said: “Our latest research has provided a unique insight into the main headwinds that are being faced by some of our accredited service and repair businesses across the country.

“The results of the study clearly show that staffing levels and a limited pool of qualified technicians to recruit from have taken centre stage, with there being little sign that this will change in the near future according to the garages and workshops polled.”

OEMs are being urged to help resolve staff shortages in the automotive retail sector. Click here to read more in the latest issue of AM Magazine.

Research conducted by The Motor Ombudsman showed that the shortage of headcount was further compounded by the fact that 50% of study participants stated that employees testing positive for Coronavirus, or having to self-isolate, had disrupted their business activities over the course of the past 12 months.

Similarly, a lack of personnel to accommodate the new peaks in MOT volumes, brought about by the introduction of the six-month exemption in 2020 in response to Coronavirus, was cited by 44% of respondents as being another knock-on effect of having a smaller than desired workforce last year.

Insufficient resource to send team members on training courses (40%), and a limited number of staff to maintain electric vehicles (EVs) also took their toll for just over a third of vehicle repairers (38%).

Analysis from the IMI suggests 90,000 automotive technicians will be required to provide sufficient workforce to service the volume of zero emissions vehicles predicted to be on UK roads by 2030 - the government’s Road to Zero deadline.

Aside from the personnel issues highlighted, the study showed that a lack of spare parts – causing delays to the repair of customer vehicles, had also impacted nearly 60% of businesses.

Other obstacles cited by survey participants included, a higher cost of overheads and lower profitability (42%), with around a fifth (17%) of those surveyed saying that reduced workshop throughput due to lower new car sales, having a reduced courtesy car fleet due to increased vehicle purchase costs, and being unable to accommodate apprenticeships, were other key factors that had all affected operations in 2021.

Despite these challenges, demand for automotive aftersales services remained high in 2021. 

Book My Garage claims to have channeled record levels of aftersales work into franchised retailers' workshops after bookings increased by 34% year-on-year in October. Its franchise SecretService programme also saw record growth, with bookings in Q3 2021 rising by 238% when compared to Q3, in 2020.

When questioned about the challenges that businesses expected to encounter during the coming months, staffing remained a prominent theme, with the unavailability of experienced technicians continuing to show no let-up in the near future.

Retaining team members due to increasing salaries at a time when qualified candidates are in short supply, was stated by respondents as another hurdle that their organisation would need to overcome. Following the government’s recent announcements, highlighting that employers should expect 15 to 25% of their workforce to be absent due to the Omicron variant, staff attendance and productivity and overall garage profitability could continue to be an issue in the first half of 2022.

Fennell added: “As we look ahead, 2022 will see businesses having to continue to contend with challenges brought about by COVID-19 and the trading environment witnessed in 2021, whilst the increasing parc of electric vehicles on UK roads will also demand both expenditure and expertise to be able to accommodate them for servicing and repair work.

“It will be another year of evolution and change, and we will be on-hand to support our UK-wide network of accredited garages where possible.”

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