Executive View: Automotive’s SOS for Skills

James Lett, technical expert at Autodata, asks how the industry can encourage more people to enter the field.

As National Apprenticeship Week comes around again, we recognise that the UK’s trade industry is still facing a labour shortage issue. This is especially true in the automotive sector, where it’s predicted we’ll experience a shortfall of 160,000 workers by 2031 due to an ageing population, a reduction in migration and many people leaving the profession all together.

This shortage of ambitious people doing hard work with their hands begs the question: How can we encourage more people to enter the field? And keep them there?

This is especially true for the younger generation. We should be inspiring them to explore opportunities to take on vocational work, changing the current narrative that a successful career only comes from attending university and working at a desk.

Encouraging apprenticeship schemes

As we know, jobs within the skilled trades play a vital role in maintaining a well-functioning society, and the apprenticeship schemes into them narrow socioeconomic disparities and fuel social mobility.

There’s a slight misconception that apprenticeship schemes are low paying. However, a recent study revealed that the average salary for an apprentice technician’s salary stands at upwards of £26,000 per year, with the potential to earn over £100,000 once completed. That shouldn’t be sniffed at.

The fantastic news is that efforts to attract apprentices to the automotive industry have intensified, leading to a significant increase in job postings. Advertising for apprentices has surged since 2020, with job postings for all automotive occupations reaching record highs in January 2023, according to the IMI.

Moreover, The Independent Garage Association (IGA) has urged Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to introduce new funding for apprenticeships in his Spring Budget, as numbers have plummeted since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017, resulting in a 39% decrease in new Level 2 & 3 Light Vehicle apprenticeship registrations.

Yes, university degrees act as a pathway to many careers. But, they aren’t the only option. It’s essential, especially for young people, to consider all their options before determining their future career paths, and the industry needs to be encouraging that.

A new type of automotive technician job

With increasing demand for EV repairs and tasks involving software updates and car upgrades, the way we approach work in the automotive field is evolving. To preserve the future of the industry, we need to recognise that these advancements can make this job more enticing for tech-savvy people wanting a job that doesn’t involve a desk.

Being an automotive technician is no longer solely about tightening bolts (although this will never stop being important!). Automation and robotics are enhancing efficiency, safety, and precision in the industry. These transformations need a fresh set of skills—ones that blend technical expertise with creative problem-solving.

Getting young people excited about these developments and opportunities is the key to inspiring a new generation of professionals in the automotive domain. This is especially important for today’s generation of school leavers who have grown up in a digital world and want to work in a job that allows them to further immerse themselves in it.

So, what needs to be done?

Industry-wide support for training technicians is especially important as the automotive industry changes to include more non-traditional cars such as EVs. One of the biggest challenges we’re seeing today being the widening skills gap in repairing these vehicles.

The reasons behind this gap are complex. Technicians aren’t getting the specialist training needed, not because to their own shortcomings, but because of underlying challenges faced by independent workshops. These challenges include the cost of tools, lack of governmental support for training funding, and the shortage of time for training due to fewer technicians entering the industry.

Although workshop software tools can enhance efficiency, the unanimous agreement is clear: there must be more readily available training for both new and experienced technicians. Nurturing apprenticeship programmes are one surefire way to support the future of automotive and fulfil these current skills gaps, but more needs to be done.

This responsibility does not rest solely on the workshops; a collective effort is required to address these growing skills gaps. The government must do more to cultivate a new generation of technicians and to equip garages to meet these evolving demands. We cannot sit quiet while concrete support for vocational skills is being left behind.

James Lett is a technical expert at Autodata, a platform that provides mechanics with the technical and real time information needed to effectively work on over 40,000 vehicles.


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