The shortfall of skills in the automotive industry is not new, but, with the UK automotive scene poised for continued growth, coupled with the fact vehicles are becoming increasingly computerised and electric, the situation has become more pressing, and is keenly felt within garages across the UK.
No longer is the career path a matter of looking over the shoulder of a patient mentor. Progressing in the motor industry today demands digital skills — a diagnostician who can solve puzzles without physical clues, like an engine knocking or an oil leak.
Last year there was widespread coverage of the injection of cash the electric vehicle market is set to receive, and, at the start of this year, ministers were warned that, by 2030, three-fifths of new cars must be electric to meet greenhouse gas targets. Presently, electric vehicles still only represent around 2% of total light-duty vehicles on the road, however, global year on year sales are increasing and exceeded the 2 million in 2017, after a 60% jump in 2016.
With this in mind it is essential that the industry is regulated by the Government now to ensure that when these vehicles come through garages for servicing and aftermarket care, vehicle technicians are equipped with the necessary skills. We have a duty of care to provide adequate training to ensure the safety of our technicians, otherwise, it will be a question of time before somebody, without the right knowledge, puts a spanner in a high voltage area.
A recent industry survey by an automotive governing body revealed that over 80% believe training should be regulated and there are calls for a proportion of Phillip Hammond’s £300 million commitment to electric vehicles to go towards training. Without regulation, though, who is responsible for training? Ultimately, we all are, from the dealerships to the small independents. While manufacturers of electric vehicles are beginning to push the dealerships to send their technicians on relevant electric vehicle training courses, they are just the minority who are starting to see the bigger picture. But, without enforcement, bodyshop and garage owners are largely unwilling to firstly invest in training, and secondly, lose their technicians for even a day to attend a course due to the lack of revenue they could incur.
Significantly, though, garages are demanding vehicle technicians who are highly skilled in electric vehicles. As a temporary recruitment specialist we have witnessed an increase in demand over the last 12 months from garages for electric vehicles technicians, and, as they are so few and far between, within days they are usually offered permanent positions!
In a nutshell, garage bosses need to be mindful of the fact that although presently vehicle technicians do not need to become proficient in electric vehicles, with the shift towards these cars, roles will change dramatically over the next two decades and the only way the current workforce can sustain their roles is to train. It’s time to make training, across all areas, an integral cog in the heart of a motor business rather than a mere add-on. Only then, as vehicle technician roles seamlessly evolve along with technology, will we begin to close the skills gap.