17 Jul 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

IMI on 2023: Vehicle tech advancement races ahead as skills crisis to worsen

Vehicle tech advancements hitting the market through 2023 will be mirrored by the further widening of the skills gap the IMI is warning as opportunities and challenges track each other into the New Year.

Level 3-ready autonomous vehicles, able to drive themselves under certain circumstances are expected to enter the market in 2023. Unfortunately, the IMI has pointed out that this will take place just as training budgets are shrinking in the midst of the ongoing skills crisis. IMI CEO Steve Nash observed: “The CBI says that the skills shortage will be with us for the long term, so employers need to plan long term. Although apprenticeship numbers have increased significantly, they still aren’t at the pre-pandemic levels they need to reach if we are to avoid long term challenges in finding the talent our industry needs. With the skills gap widening and costs increasing rapidly, I have real concerns about the future of our industry, and the impact of employers having to make the tough choice between keeping the lights on and spending on essential training.”

The overall economic picture is not helping, as IMI Policy Manager Hayley Pells noted: “As the current economic challenges continue into the New Year, drivers are looking to cut costs wherever possible. It has been suggested that motorists will feel the MOT test is an unnecessary expense with RAC research saying that many will continue to use their vehicle even when the MOT has expired. If MOT tests are indeed pushed off the priority list, it’s not an unfair assumption that the more expensive maintenance costs including vital checks on autonomous and driver assistance systems will also fall down the to-do list, leaving in their wake a perfect storm for road safety disaster.”

According to Steve employers will have to take equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) fully on board about. “We have no chance of addressing our skills gap without widening our appeal to currently under-represented groups. Through the IMI Diversity Task Force, we will continue to focus on providing employers with practical solutions they can apply with both their existing and future employees. We believe this will, in turn, increase the gender, ability and ethnic diversity of the industry and address the growing skills gap.

Then there are structural changes in the industry. Steve observed: “The move to an ‘Agency’ distribution model is also likely to become a reality in 2023 with Mercedes-Benz being the first OEM to taking that leap, and others set to follow suit. While there is still uncertainty about the new challenges and opportunities this will bring, there is no doubt that it will change roles at OEM and dealer level – manufacturers will take on the primary sales role while dealers refocus on the customer relationship management. However, this shift will create a real opportunity for investment in skills because it will be even more of a customer choice differentiator.

Looking at wider external influences, Hayley added: “Uber has outsourced their AI programming language, Pyro, and have an ambitious car programme. Indeed software defined vehicles are going to be a whole new shouting match with the big players teaming up – Renault with Google for example are creating a ‘digital twin’, a virtual copy of a vehicle that offers advanced artificial technology capabilities reportedly to allow ‘for easier and continuous integration of new services into the vehicle and the creation of new onboard and offboard applications’.”

She concluded: “All of this means that 2023 should see us take a big leap into the future of road travel, but the industry needs to come together to ensure it is ready to help not hinder this exciting progress.”