Tel:+44(0)121 748 4600 Fax:+44(0)121 730 2745 Email: Search
The Independent Automotive Aftermarket Federation

The disconnect at the heart of the aftermarket’s skills crisis

Date: Wednesday 25 May 2022

I recently had the pleasure of being a panellist at Autotech Group’s conference at Red Bull MK-7, Milton Keynes. Thanks to Gavin and the Autotech Group team! On the agenda for discussion was the aftermarket’s yawning skills gap.

It all started in familiar territory. The sector has a problem attracting young people, especially women.

A stark statistic captured the conversation early on: there are 23,000 open vacancies according to the IMI, equating to roughly 4% of the sector.

If only 1% of the aftermarket’s workforce is female today, it’s clear that even a modest increase in gender diversity would go a long way towards solving the problem. In fact, tapping into all forms of diverse candidate bases is key.

But in the afternoon, we began to dig a little deeper and one member of the audience brought something to our attention that totally shifted the narrative.

He was from a college running a course for trainee technicians and told us how every year, a large number of his students drop out. But it wasn’t always because they’d decided the career was no longer attractive to them.

The issue was the college’s inability to secure work experience or placements. It was desperate to place its students, but garages and companies didn’t seem to be able to help.

Yet here we all were, surrounded by workshop owners crying out for talent. Clearly, something somewhere in the system has broken down.

I got speaking to some of the garage owners, and their experiences are not unlike those of the many customers I meet with every week.

They said that taking on work experience or apprenticeships is time intensive and expensive, and the possible risk of failure at the end of it all makes it feel like a huge gamble.

And who can blame them? Garages have endured an unprecedented period of business disruption – and the need to invest in and adapt their businesses to remain competitive is ever-present in the background.

Even the dealerships’ workshops have been cutting back on training young technicians, further restricting the pool of talent that independent workshops can draw from.

So, what can we do?

Garages need more support. Whether that’s grant funding from government or other resources, it is there. But finding where to go and navigating the red tape is something even large corporates struggle with. Bigger businesses like ours and the industry’s trade bodies need to do what they can to help.

And there are other niggles to iron out. Taking on an inexperienced 18-year-old will mean a big time commitment from garage owners and technicians in the workshop. Again, it’s up to the bigger players and associations to get our heads together to help find and create solutions.

At one level there is a matchmaking job to be done, too. Connecting small garages with busy colleges isn’t always straightforward, even when there is willingness on both sides.

And that’s where Autotech Group is already making inroads, with its Autotech Academy division which places newly qualified automotive students into garages and workshops through a paid internship.

It’s clear that although there is an obvious frustration that despite both healthy supply and plenty of demand, a skills gap exists, it is, in truth, something we as an industry could fix.

The industry’s image needs fixing too though. To young men and young women from all backgrounds, we need to continue to promote the breadth and excitement of roles in the automotive aftermarket.

If together, we can lean into the image problem and the disconnect at the heart of the system, then the skills gap is eminently fixable.