16 Apr 2024

Mind the gap

How can the industry tackle labour gaps and fuel passion in future automotive technicians?

By James Lett, Technical Expert at Autodata


The UK’s trade industries are 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 fulfilling career comes from attending university and working at a desk.

The importance of apprenticeship schemes
I’m sure it’s obvious to most people who are reading this. But, just in case, jobs within the skilled trades play a vital role in maintaining a well-functioning society. They ensure the safety, functionality, and upkeep of our homes, vehicles and businesses. Furthermore, these professions, and the apprenticeship schemes into them, narrow socioeconomic disparities and fuel social mobility. Offering competitive salaries without the necessity of a university degree, they provide a lifelong career for people who might not have the resources to go to university.

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 more than doubling since 2021, according to the IMI.

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. For those that have been in the profession a while, this can feel daunting. But, 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. 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.

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 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.

So, what should employers be doing? When thinking about advertising for apprenticeship or entry-level roles, don’t scare off potential candidates by throwing a laundry list of skills they “must” have. Make it inviting! Label specific skills as perks, not deal-breakers, so even if they don’t check all the boxes, they’ll still feel confident about applying.

Be clear on what skills they’ll pick up and map out where this journey could take their career. Paint a picture of what life looks like after they ace the apprenticeship, hint at possible job upgrades, and let them know if there’s a full-time gig waiting for them. By giving them a sneak peek into their potential future, they’ll feel invested in your company and want to progress.

It’s not just about attracting and supporting new talent though. Investing in both new and existing staff is crucial. Retaining skilled technicians proves significantly more cost-effective than repeatedly onboarding new hires. The expenses multiply when shops have to recruit, interview, train, and integrate new technicians continuously.

Ensuring a successful and lasting relationship with technicians begins with you. Garage owners should be clear from the get-go of the job expectations, culture, pay, and benefits of the job. They should also consider what benefits they do offer, including things like health insurance, paid time off, retirement benefits, and bonuses will do wonders for keeping staff.

Acknowledging the complexity of automotive technology, it is imperative for shop owners to invest in the career development of their technicians. This can involve covering the cost of ongoing education, establishing mentorship programs, and providing internal training initiatives.

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 is the widening skills gap in repairing EVs. 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.

Lack of time also plays a role. 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. This responsibility should not rest solely on the workshops; A collective effort is required to address this skills gap and ensure the workforce is equipped to meet the evolving demands of the automotive industry.