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Attracting new talent to the automotive industry - a guest opinion

Neil Smith, Imperial Car Supermarkets

At Imperial Cars we’re growing in size, we’re growing in knowledge, and we’re growing the employee count. Now in our 13 acres of preparation centres, pushing more than 2,000 vehicles through a month, we’re constantly on the hunt for skilled technicians - and this poses an all to common problem that I know many of you share. 

Just how do you attract talent to fill these ever technical roles?

I know that the shortfall of skills in the automotive industry is not new, but it’s certainly still a talking point - and something we would all benefit from being proactive to solve. Nearly everyone I speak to in the industry is feeling the effects of the problem. Every size of business, every brand.

So how do we solve the recruitment problem that exists in the automotive industry? For me, it’s simple, but we understand that it’s long-haul and requires razor-like business focus.

Our top 3 focusses are:
1) Invest in what you already have.
2) Invest in promoting proof of your workplace equality to attract under-utilised
demographics, such as females, young people and more.
3) Keep growing your opportunity for promotion and promote from within.

Invest in what you already have:
There’s a lot of managers in the automotive industry that seem to be more focused on completing the task at hand, repairing the malfunctioning vehicle, or meeting an individual sales quota to focus on the development of their workforce. Understandable. It’s a real challenge to balance.

The culture of our business is paramount. We’re giving our people room to grow. We’re defining their opportunity for success with realistic targets that offer a true feel-good factor when they are so often reached - and we’re genuine about coaching those that didn’t make the target. More needs to be done, particularly with smaller garages, to recruit and retain employees.

With automotive technology moving at such a high pace, the industry needs to recruit and continue to train employees to ensure they not only retain their workforce, but that they possess the right blend of skills and education to complete technical jobs effectively and keep up with not just technology, but the growing complexity of vehicles.

We work jointly with PTS training academy to provide valuable training to our staff in a number of different performance areas. This represents part of our policy to support national growth. It’s part of our culture of always striving for excellence and supporting staff to thrive and succeed.

Invest in promoting proof of your workplace equality to attract under-utilised demographics, such as females, young people and more.
Typically perceived as an old-fashioned and dirty trade, the automotive industry has become increasingly clean, high tech, with exciting electronics and computers fitted into cars. What’s not to like about that? Because vehicles are becoming increasingly computerised, the situation has become more pressing. No longer is the career path a matter of looking over the shoulder of a patient mentor.

Progressing in the motor industry demands digital skills — a diagnostician who can solve puzzles without physical clues, like an engine knocking or an oil leak.
Increasingly career pathways, such as apprenticeship programmes, can be introduced as a route to harness fresh new talent, ensuring that the industry has the practical skills and qualifications needed now, and in the future.

The rise of Instagram-ers, likers and sharers has also seen a renewed interest in the glamorous side of the car industry - so knowing how to position your vacancies is a real advantage. What language are you using to communicate your roles? Some more ‘established’ garage owners and managers who prefer the oily end of the business are fearful of this up-and-coming generation, because millennials have different communication habits, are in tune with technology and live for online culture, but the reality is, as the industry becomes more and more technical, it is the millennials who will drive this industry forward, and the older generation need to embrace this skillset.

Keep growing your opportunity for promotion and promote from within:
Money is actually lower down on the list, what employees are actually looking for is the option to progress and better themselves through training and the potential to move up the ladder. However, so many of the people we’ve hired from our competitors say that their previous employers weren’t delivering on their training promises and this is affecting their morale and motivation - leading them right into Imperial.

From a vehicle-technician-come-job-seeker’s perspective, there is an almighty progression opportunity in this industry and, in the case of permanent recruitment, we see that today’s skilled technicians are very much aware of their value and continue to actively seek new job opportunities. So if you want to win - you need to make sure you do everything you can to help them see a future with you. Do you have an idea of your own path as you read this? How sure are you that your people do too? There is one way to find out, of course… we ask them in our very regular appraisals.

My view is that if we don’t start solving this problem today, we’ll only make our continued growth harder - and in the last 2 years alone we’ve added 8 new sites to the portfolio - that’s 16 in total. How do I know that it’s successful? Well, I’ve had that view for years now - and it shows steady in our excellent retention rates. I’d much rather maintain these dials today than fix the problem tomorrow. 

I’ll leave you on a parting thought… A problem shared is a problem halved. Wouldn’t it be great if we all came together to solve these problems?

● Working together to improve the quality & quantity of apprentices, graduates &  postgraduates in the automotive industry.
● Attracting more young people, especially women, into automotive careers using initiatives.
● Lowering the skills gap.
● Working together to transform existing, under-utilised non skilled roles into a progressive skills road map.

I think the organisations below and so many more would offer so much value if they could come together to create a better future - I’m happy to support a combined approach, offer our resources and more.
● NFDA, Drive My Career & The RMI
● The Automotive 30% Club
● AM Live
● Major classifieds, such as The eBay Motors group bringing in the glamour of Silicon Valley.

Whether you’re listed above or not - feel free to reach out to me on Linkedin to discuss it further anytime.

Author: Neil Smith, operations director, Imperial Cars

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