Skills, Thrills and Automobiles

Skills, Thrills and Automobiles

This article was originally published on 11 July 2022

Tom Hadley

It's been nearly four months since Talent Recharge 2022, but the points raised at the event are still echoing in our heads. In this guest blog, Tom Hadley*, a workforce consultant and one of Talent Recharge guest speakers, provides his take on the conference and the ‘Milton Keynes manifesto’.

The turbo-charged surrounds of the Red Bull ‘Advanced Technologies’ campus in Milton Keynes was the setting for Autotech Group’s Talent Recharge2022 – an incredibly timely event that set a marker for change in the automotive sector.

The insight and collective energy from over 200 industry leaders provided a real ignition point and a fast-track for concerted action. The focus now is on shifting through the gears and tapping into the shared desire to change things up on attracting and developing the workforce of the future.

With competition for staff and skills intensifying across the labour market, there has never been a more important to galvanise employers, recruiters and education leaders around a unified approach to gaining, training and retaining a new generation of workers in the sector.

Below are some of the core messages that formed part of the ‘Milton Keynes manifesto’:

1. Being clear on the scale of the workforce challenge is an important starting point
Current talent strategies are not fit for purpose. Over 75% of employers felt that recruitment had become even more difficult following the pandemic, and 45% admitted that the skills shortage had cost their business over £100k in the last 12 months alone. The latest data from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) shows increasing demand for staff and underlines intensifying competition from a range of sectors.

2. Automotive can be great sector to work in, but profound changes are needed
There are over 23,000 live vacancies in the automotive industry. Yes, more can be done to raise awareness and promote opportunities in the sector. But this is not a cosmetic communication exercise; we must ensure that the substance of the work reflects any souped-up narrative. The culture within the sector must be one that is welcoming, inclusive and energising. Mark Priestley - former F1 race mechanic, and part of the McLaren team for over 10 years – provided an inspirational example of how a concerted effort to enhance organisational culture created a sense of belonging, resulting in a dramatic performance bounce.

3. It is time to make real change happen on diversity and inclusion
Representative bodies like the Industry of the Motor Industry (IMI) are taking a lead in this area. Presenting the findings of the IMI’s Diversity Task Force, Joanna Hollingdale, the IMI’s Careers and Student Membership Manager, issued a passionate plea to “make the automotive sector accessible to everyone”. Making change happen on diversity and inclusion is a shared agenda and must involve buy-in from senior leadership and more ‘listening’ so that latent barriers are understood and systematically dismantled.

4. The pace of change is frantic; but let’s use this as a selling point
In the words of Lee Colman, Chief Production Officer at SBD Automotive: “The industry will change more in the next 5 years than it has in the last 50”. Things are moving quickly, driven by evolving consumer expectations and developments such as EVs (electric vehicles). This is creating a brave new world in terms of evolving skills needs and new working environments; we can use this to tell compelling stories about the sector and excite people about the emerging opportunities.

5. Innovation is the name of the game
Ongoing peer-to-peer exchanges will help to identify new approaches to staff attraction and retention and will drive further innovation. In the words of The Recruitment Network (TRN) CEO James Osborne (and unflappable facilitator of the Talent Recharge event): “We need to think differently if we want to stand out from the crowd. We need more purple cows”! Creating a strong ‘employer brand’ is an example of this, and creating a dynamic and enticing ‘pitch’ is part of the solution. This where the ‘thrills’ element comes into play!

6. Partnerships will be the driver of sustainable progress
Ramping up partnership work between FE colleges and employers must be at the heart of the reskilling agenda. Boosting work experience opportunities was one of the priorities flagged by participants. A further priority is to ensure that those delivering FE courses can inspire people and raise awareness of the emerging roles in the industry. Organisations like WorldSkills UK can play a major part in promoting global best practices and using international competitions to energise both workers and employers.

In the words of Autotech Group CEO, Gavin White, “The future starts today”. This – and the Talent Recharge event as a whole – was an energising rallying call at a time of urgent need. Workforce challenges in the automotive sector may well get harder over the coming months; but there is a real desire to get significantly better at addressing these through increasingly pro-active and collaborative approaches. A coalition of change is on the move. The Red Bull campus confab was just the start.

* Tom Hadley is an independent workforce consultant and business coach, working on both the domestic and global stage through projects with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and other institutions.

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