Recent reports released by the IMI have painted a bleak outlook for the motor trade in the recruitment of school leavers and apprentices. Just a quarter of parents reported that they would be happy for their child to take the vehicle technician route, compared to 59% who favoured their offspring pursuing an engineering career.
These somewhat damning figures illustrate the work that still needs to be done to blow the misconception of what working in the automotive industry today is really like. Essentially, it demands digital skills, diagnosticians who can solve puzzles without physical clues, like an engine knocking or an oil leak. We work in an industry which is typically perceived as an old-fashioned and dirty trade, so it needs to be made an attractive option at a young age to ensure that the next generation of talent is enthusiastic and willing to learn the necessary skills.
The revival of the industry over the last few years has brought significant success to the sector, and around 800,000 jobs have been sustained. The value of the automotive aftermarket alone is set to rise to £28 billion by 2022, with the creation of an expected 400,000 roles. But who’s going to fill them? And what about the exodus of retiring workers? Who’s going to take over these positions? It’s a serious issue which needs to be addressed, and we need to start looking at school leavers and the options available to them.
Through budget squeezing over the last decade, colleges have been forced to severely narrow the curriculum they offer as our austerity-obsessed government seeks to maintain the excellence of our institutions at a fraction of the cost. This has left college administrators squeezing every ounce out of lectures and focusing on the more profitable STEM subjects, leaving the more technical courses, such as motor mechanics, at risk of being wiped out. And, as the IMI have pointed out, the career advice given to school leavers is worryingly inconsistent.
Encouragingly though, according to the report, 36% of parents said that they felt it was more important to learn a trade/skill than it is to learn a subject, compared to 27% in 2014. But, do they know how much the automotive industry has evolved and the opportunities, particularly for apprentices, which are available today?
As an industry, we need to raise the profile of these career paths and apprenticeship programmes to a wider audience. From educational facilities, to ensure they deliver the correct information, to the parents and school leavers themselves. Only then will we re-shape how the industry is perceived and respected, to boost the number of home-grown motor technicians entering the industry.
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