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Body repair industry’s ‘biggest threat’ is skills crisis, survey reveals

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The UK body repair sector is under threat from an industry-wide shortage of skills, according to a survey by Auto Body Projects and Trend Tracker.

The survey, conducted for the recently published ‘Future of the UK Car Body Repair Market 2019-2024’ report, found that over 35% of bodyshop owner/managers are fearful of a skills crisis in the industry.

The results cite a poor return on labour charge-out rates paid by motor insurers as the main reason for the industry losing skilled technicians to other sectors in order to achieve better rates of pay.

The warning is stark as bodyshop owners are having to invest more heavily as modern motor vehicles have become ever-more complex to repair.

Trend Tracker’s director and report author, Mark Bull, said: “The skills gap presents a major challenge for the body repair industry.

“An aging technician demographic combined with a lack of investment in technician training, recruiting and training apprentices has led to a shortage of skilled staff throughout the sector.

"Compounding this is the Brexit effect whereby some of the skilled Eastern European technicians employed by many bodyshops, are choosing to return home.

“The bodyshop industry is well-renowned as a cottage industry. This is integral to the skills issue as a low profit margin for a SME business often fails to provide sufficient funding to invest in trainees, apprenticeships or upskilling qualified staff to required standards.”

Amidst these grave concerns, Bull states that all is not doom and gloom.

“There is some magnificent and creative work being undertaken by many independent bodyshop businesses, who have created their own apprentice academies or have joined forces with AutoRaise, the industry-based charity that exists to address the skills shortage," he said.

“AutoRaise has helped the industry tremendously in a relatively short period of time by promoting body repair apprenticeships into schools and colleges, plus assisting bodyshop employers to recruit apprentices.

“I’m pleased to say that several insurers, claims solutions companies and suppliers are backing the AutoRaise initiative that continues to develop its footprint into the industry and the educational sector.”

Similarly, Fix Auto UK has just launched a nationwide search for three technicians to represent the country in the Fix Auto Masters Programme.

The programme has been brought to the UK by Fix Automotive Network World and is supported by key partners AkzoNobel, 3M and Thatcham Research.

This year’s inaugural competition involves a unique skills and knowledge contest designed to recognise technical talent from within Fix Auto’s worldwide network.

Thatcham Research’s head of repair sector services, Dean Lander, said: “It’s a great pleasure to support the Fix Auto Masters programme. We are delighted to be developing the tests and assessments to recognise the skills and dedication of bodyshop technicians.

“We are sure this programme will inspire the next generation starting out in the industry to see the enormous potential a career in the vehicle repair sector offers.”

The results of the survey, contained within the Trend Tracker report, also provided positive news in regard to apprenticeships as 49.7% of respondents stated they intend to take on apprentices over the next 12 month period, with a further 26.8% stating ‘maybe’ they will also. 

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