ADDRESSING THE SKILLS SHORTAGE CRISIS

ARCA is committed to playing its part in helping to find solutions that will help relieve this major crisis, explains Mike Smith

In this series of articles, Automotive Repairers Council of Australia (ARCA) convener, Mike Smith, will take a look at issues that will affect automotive repairer workshops and topics of interest to the sector including occasional profiles of mechanics and other key personnel. msmith@aaaa.com.au

I am pleased to report that ARCA is currently setting up a Skills and Workforce Sub Committee. This committee will be dedicated to addressing the ever-growing skills shortage that is beginning to cripple the automotive industry.
Subcommittee member, Maurice Donovan of Brisbane (Queensland), has long been involved in the automotive industry and today is the sole Managing Director of his company Allautos Advanced Tuning, a Technical Advisor for The Automotive Technician (TaT) and a Committee Member for MTAQ Automotive Engineers Division (AED) of Queensland amongst other roles contributing to the automotive industry.
“I see our skills shortage to be just as threatening to our industry as the access to information issue which we all face,” Maurice said when I asked him to share with AAA Magazine readers his thoughts on issues the subcommittee will be working on.
“Without skilled staff, we as an industry will not be able to survive.
“This problem is so big of a threat and unfortunately I do not think anyone really knows how to combat it. With the establishment of this committee within ARCA, we will be working to aggressively address this problem to ensure it doesn’t see our industry move into dire straits.
“The only way we can start to move forward is with a well thought-out plan which involves the whole of our industry, a plan which will require all of us to be united and prepared to join forces and work through this together.”
So what is ARCA doing now and into the future to address this critical issue?
“Because of our (ARCA’s) involvement with the Choice of Repairer campaign, the skills shortage issue has had to take a secondary position to date,” Maurice said.
“However now that the Choice of Repairer campaign is moving forward and we have both sides of government showing commitments to mandate the necessary changes, we can now start to concentrate on the skills shortage.
“I sent a list of recommendations to the AAAA and ARCA heads and we have decided to form the sub-committee to try and formulate some strategic planning around educating our industry around a solution which will require all of us to join forces and do our parts to help solve the crisis we are all facing.

“Mike Smith has been doing a lot of behind the scenes, undertaking ground work and talking and visiting with a number of schools, career counsellors, technical colleges and tech teachers as well as OEMs who are facing the same problems. This has begun a network which will be critical in us all moving forward together for a solution.
“ARCA is definitely being proactive towards our industry problems and we want our readers and members to join us in also being proactive when needed.
“We want to be in tune with you and for you to be up to date with what we are doing, and we will be working hard to educate you on these points and provide knowledge and direction so that you can be part of the solution we all work towards.”
The skills shortage problem has two key elements: a declining ability of our industry, and that of all trade industries, to attract workers; and the lack of skills for those that we do attract.
“We need to re-educate our community, our customers, our schools, their students and their parents along with school career officers, employment agencies and the public of the huge potential our Automotive industry can offer to the young career seekers of today and the future who are looking for a challenging and rewarding career path,” Maurice explained.
“When it comes to our efforts with education providers, we need to drive this with supported extra-curricular vocational education training which will open the eyes of both students and those guiding them. We then need a plan to ensure availability for apprentice employment – there is no use implementing a recruiting program only to find we have an unsupportive industry uninterested in employing apprentices.
“At the end of the day, this isn’t a situation unique to the automotive industry or auto technicians – all trades throughout all industries are struggling to hire and retain skilled workers. Alongside
the auto technicians it is spare parts interpreters, panel beaters, spray painters, builders, brick layers, plumbers, house painters and the list
goes on.

“With so much of a push for students to take up a university degree and become a ‘professional’, more and more the ‘trades’ are struggling to be seen as a legitimate and valued career path. The thinking seems to increasingly be that if you pursue a trade you are ‘settling for second best.’
“Trade work is becoming unfashionable and I suspect this is in a large part due to the huge marketing pushes undertaken by tertiary education providers. They have poured so much into marketing themselves and they have done a great job – we need to learn from them and start promoting our trade as a very desirable career which offers many future opportunities to those looking to join our industry.
“This problem is not isolated to Australia either – it is the same in Europe and the USA and many other first world countries. Amazingly though, so many industries and those within them are refusing to see the true potential for this problem and just how bad it could get if we don’t do something to reverse the trend.
“Once we have them interested, we then need to make sure that we train them effectively and keep training them throughout their career. This is another area in which we as an industry are struggling.
“The question is do we want our government to continue to build and control the training standards, or do we as an industry want to build these standards and control them so as to deliver a competent training package for our entry level technicians.
“I believe we need to look at a number of different avenues. Encouraging a mentor model for our apprentices is key, as is creating a framework for pre-employment education that equips apprentices to a skill level that when employed, they can be paid more so as to avoid the temptation to drop out because their pay is insufficient.
“Creating different entry points for technicians (such as Maintenance Technician, Repair Technician, Diagnostic Technician and Master Technician) and advancing technicians with an accreditation style of entry levels within their career path could make a real difference.
“This and more strategies we are working on will all play a vital part in turning this situation around, but we need the whole industry and its employers to be working with us to make it a reality.”
Maurice is an excellent example of a person who is dedicated in being proactive towards the improvement of standards and levels within our Automotive Industry. Your ARCA committee team are committed to you, our members and our industry, and will work towards a better future for our up and coming generations who are entering or yet to enter our industry.