13 Jul 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

Time for change

In the face of the ongoing recruitment crisis, investment in training and development must be part of the solution
By Wayne Daniel, UK Operations Manager for Point S Tyre & Autocare

It is no secret that one of the major challenges faced by the automotive industry is the skills shortage that has impacted the sector for years. The aftermarket in particular has suffered from a lack of investment in education and training, making it increasingly difficult to attract and retain the next generation of skilled workers.
There are many reasons that the motor trade finds itself in the depths of a skills shortage, but perhaps the best place to start is the changing landscape of the automotive sector over the past decade. Technological advancements and changing consumer behaviour continue to drive transformation, and it has proved difficult for the aftermarket to keep pace. The recent rise of electric vehicles has necessitated a shift in skill requirements within the industry. While progress is something that should be celebrated, the supply of skilled professionals has unfortunately not kept up with this rapid change, leading to a shortage of qualified technicians.

Root causes
But what exactly are the root causes of this? For starters, there isn’t enough awareness of a career in the motor trade among young people coming through school and going into either further education or straight into working life. Younger generations’ lack of knowledge about the diverse and rewarding career opportunities available in the automotive aftermarket has held our industry back for quite some time now. Misconceptions still exist that the aftermarket is a low-tech and undesirable sector. Unfortunately, this clouds many people’s judgement about the considerable opportunities that exist within the industry, including the capacity to work with the advanced technology that has become increasingly prevalent within the aftermarket.

This has been compounded by a decline in vocational education and an overemphasis on traditional academic paths, which has not only impacted our sector, but many others too. With less exploration into honing technical skills, young people may not have the appetite and desire to embark on a career that requires this skillset. As a result, a significant gap has grown between the skills required by the industry and the skills possessed by job seekers.

I mentioned earlier how the rapid technological changes that have impacted the industry have outpaced the training and development of skilled professionals. Everybody within the industry is well aware of the complexity of electric and hybrid systems, advanced diagnostics, and computerised vehicle management systems that are becoming part and parcel of day-to-day life in the garage. These systems and technologies demand an extremely high level of technical expertise, and on an industry level, this is lacking. According to the IMI, for instance, just 39,000 technicians were qualified to service electric vehicles by the end of 2022, which is 64,000 short of the total required by 2030.

For the independent businesses within the industry, the skills shortage is especially damaging. Without a sufficient number of skilled technicians, these businesses struggle to meet customer demand, resulting in longer wait times, decreased customer satisfaction, and, ultimately, lower profitability. Moreover, the inability to keep up with emerging technologies limits their capacity to service modern vehicles. Losing business and falling behind the franchised dealers simply isn’t an option for the independent organisations in our industry.

But how do we address these challenges? From an industry perspective, there are multiple ways that we can do better, and this starts with raising awareness. A collaboration between the key industry stakeholders, including manufacturers, dealerships, and trade associations, would work wonders in improving public perception about how rewarding and dynamic a career in the automotive sector can be. I also can’t vouch highly enough for initiatives such as apprenticeships, career fairs, and educational outreach programmes, which can help to promote just how far the industry has come in terms of technology, and how much potential there is for growth.
In order to harness the talent attracted to the industry, it is essential that we see continued investment in vocational education and training programmes that align with the sector’s developing needs. As long as we provide students with hands-on training and industry-relevant skills, we can bridge the skills gap and attract a new generation of talent, as well as retaining the talent already on our hands.

With that in mind, let’s not forget the professionals already working in the industry. The continued professional development of these individuals is crucial and must be encouraged and supported. As an industry, we must be conscious of other industries offering larger wages to technicians, and in order to retain staff, this is certainly something that the sector must be mindful of. These are extremely skilled people, whose talents must not be lost to other industries. The provision of training programmes is therefore essential in order to upgrade their skills and help them stay up to date with the latest technologies to ensure that they can service any vehicle that comes through the doors.

So, where do networks like Point S come in? As the UK’s leading independent tyre dealer and car maintenance network, our responsibility is to provide the independent businesses within our network with as much support as possible. Some of this support comes in the form of increased buying power, better up-front pricing on parts and tyres, and a wide range of marketing and business guidance. Increasingly, however, our focus is intensifying on training and development.

When it comes to the need to upskill technicians within the network, we are building a tailor-made solution. Businesses within our network already have access to industry-leading bespoke training that is geared towards bolstering the skillset of these technicians. Our UK and European Training Manager, Jon Taylor, has spent the last year developing our training program to ensure that Point S technicians can safely and confidently service any vehicle. This work hasn’t gone unnoticed; we were officially recognised as an IMI approved centre in March, demonstrating the quality of our training offering.

Jon’s training program is now well underway, with courses being delivered to the network across the country on a regular basis. We are extremely wary of how the transition to electric vehicles has contributed to the sector’s recruitment struggles, and we are determined that Point S members will not suffer as a result. The long-term goal of our training program is to become the largest qualified and certified European network for electric vehicle maintenance by 2026, and the building blocks are already in place.

This bespoke training provision sets Point S apart. It is one part of an all-encompassing service that has seen significant growth across our member network in the UK and Northern Ireland, with over 300 points of sale present in the network today. With the huge leverage and resources of the global Point S brand, we have ambitious plans in place to further grow our network of independent businesses.

Our mission is to futureproof the independent businesses within our network, and that includes futureproofing the people within it. The automotive skills shortage presents a significant obstacle to the growth and long-term sustainability of independent auto centres and tyre dealers, but by addressing the lack of available training opportunities to the current workforce and attracting future generations to the industry, we can overcome this challenge.

For more information, visit: www.point-s.co.uk