Crisis In Our Workshops

A shortage of Vehicle Technicians is costing the UK motor dealers millions.

The retail motor industry has reached a critical stage due to an ongoing skills shortage disaster. The current demand for Vehicle Technicians, Panel Beaters and M.E.T. Technicians is higher than ever before.  Currently, 68.4% of our vacancies are for people who can fix things, and 65.4% of those are for Vehicle Technicians. This is a trend we are seeing in dealerships, bodyshops and independent workshops across the North East of England.

These shortages can be traced back to dealers not recruiting enough apprentices for many years, which was always going to lead to the current situation.

We are seeing more CVs being submitted where people working in dealerships or bodyshops have very questionable backgrounds. This is due to companies having to consider/recruit lower level skilled staff hoping they can be developed to a satisfactory level. Unfortunately, many of these recruits do not reach the required standards quickly enough before they are moved on.

We have created a report using our extensive information resource, to show how recruitment in the retail North East motor industry has changed over the last 15 years.

As is stands, 68.4% of our current vacancies are for productives. In 2020 this figure was 47.3%, 21.2% in 2011, and in 2006 they made up 24.9% of our overall vacancies.

Reflecting on the demand for Vehicle Technicians, we looked at online website vacancies posted by motor dealers, bodyshops and specialist independents in the North East of England. Of the vacancies posted requiring productives on 29/04/21, 90.6% were for Vehicle Technicians.

Although we are continuously receiving more applications for productive roles, the number of applicants that we interview (candidates) are on a major decline. The reason for this is simply because these applicants are either not qualified/experienced, their skill level wouldn’t meet client’s requirements, or they clearly do not stay in a job for very long.

Note: Applicants (are not yet interviewed by us). Candidates (have been interviewed by us).

As shown in the graph above, there are anomalies between 2008 and 2009 which clearly accounts for the devastating recession that hit us in 2008. Understandingly, we saw a spike in people applying to us due to being made redundant. Supporting this, we logged 1,037 applicants in 2008, compared to just 540 applicants in 2009.

After carrying out this research, it is clear that the industry took a turn for the worst after the recession. In 2008, people were being made redundant and companies curtailed recruitment. When we started to recover from the recession, companies needed to replace their lost workforce, however many of those who were made redundant had left the industry due to not finding employment. This is where employers should have recruited more apprentices, to bring in ‘fresh blood’ who would become fully experienced/qualified staff. Unfortunately, the focus was on recruiting fully experienced staff today, without much thought about the future.

Everyone in the motor trade will be aware of the Vehicle Technician disaster. Although we are still logging ‘Technicians’, we are interviewing less and less every year. Unfortunately, we are seeing a trend where the majority have questionable backgrounds and jump around in a short space of time. In most cases, this is due to not having the right skills to be able to do the job, but companies are desperate, so they give them a chance. And so the cycle continues.

Steve Shaw, Director of Ingenia Recruitment, said “We are in the midst of a dire situation, with no short term solution in sight. Recruiting apprentices now is the right things to do, and indeed must be done; but due to their very nature, will take years to achieve the skill level of those Technicians we are losing. Recruiting and training semi-skilled people could offer a partial solution, but once these people are recruited, they need a lot of training, mentoring, support and patience; things that we generally tend not to be very good at. Our current system of ‘giving them a chance’, throw them a service or pad and discs to replace and see how they get on, simply does not work. Most companies have resorted to increasing the wage for productives, but all this has resulted in is speeding up the merry-go-round with no net gain for the industry as a whole.

Increasing the wage to attract apprentice applications will help, but as previously stated, the need for productives is immediate.

Obviously our research and findings is our own and therefore North East based, but I am aware that these issues are not isolated to our region.”

So, just how much this is impacting our industry… From information available, we know that there were 4,769 franchised dealers in the UK in January 2021. We know that the average UK dealer labour rate in 2017 was £99p.h. We have assumed a 40 hour week, an average time to recruit of 6 weeks, and that only 25% of dealers have a vacancy for a Technician. The total loss of income across the UK is in excess of £28M, and that excludes independents and fast fits. It is also assumes that they only need 1 Technician. We know that dealers in the North East need more than 1 Technician, and often take months to recruit. So this figure is likely well understated.

Extract from the IMI’s Automotive Apprenticeship Stats Report March 2021:

There were 2,823 automotive apprenticeships in the 1st half of 2020/21 which is 53% lower than last year. Although automotive apprenticeship starts are now approaching monthly figures that resemble previous years they are not ‘recouping’ the dramatic falls in September and October.

Comparing 2020/21 starts to 2019/20 there has been a significant decline in the number of apprenticeships supported by ASA levy funding. All apprenticeships supported by ASA funding have fallen by 28% while the number of automotive apprenticeships have fallen by 64%.

Steve added: “So the IMI reports that there were 2,823 automotive apprentices in the first half of 2020/21. These apprenticeships were not just for Technicians, they were all disciplines in dealers, independents, bodyshops, HGV, etc. Our own research identified that there were 4,769 franchised dealers alone in January 2021. This clearly shows a massive level of under-recruitment. At these rates, the lost income will simply increase further.”

Despite the challenges, Ingenia remain at the forefront of quality recruitment for both dealers and individuals.