CALLING ALL RETIRED MECHANICS
As we continue to tackle the skills shortage, the AAAA is hoping to reach out to our industry’s statesmen and women for guidance
While the brand-new Future Ready research saw the skills shortage slip down to fourth in the top 10 challenges for workshops for the first time in three years, the ubiquitous skills shortage is still rightfully a prime cause for concern.
Increasing labour and parts costs, pressure on margins, and consumer spending reductions are currently holding the top three places of risk and worry for our workshops, and there is no denying that the challenges of inflation and cost of living rises are now a key pressure point for those in automotive service and repair.
Consumers with less discretionary income are choosing to delay services and defer the purchase of non-essentials items, and this is having deep impacts for our industry.
Even so, the skills shortage remains ever present, and while it may be fourth on this list, it is still a major cause for concern and one that we absolutely cannot ignore.
Depending on which data source you use, the shortage is at least one tech for every workshop – that’s 27,500, and if we add in auto elects and collision repair, it is not hard to see a gap of 35,000. Quite possibly, the number could even be as high as 40,000.
It is hard to know the right number because workshops do the best they can with what they have – delaying jobs, using clever scheduling to manage customer needs with the available labour, and working extra hours.
Effectively lots of stop gap measures are being employed to make the workshop run as smoothly as possible whilst waiting for the right person to apply for job ads that have been up for over eight weeks.
A wide range of initiatives and efforts are being pursued, and some of these will, if successful, slowly chip away at this issue.
For instance, improving skilled migration, enhancing the reputation of our industry for new entrants, paying attention to salary and conditions, and improving work conditions are all standard and intelligent ideas.
But we may also need to think differently about how we can fill the gaps – as Albert Einstein observed, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Thinking differently means making a leap of faith and using some out of the box options, and that’s where we find ourselves in 2023.
An option worth exploring in the ‘lateral thinking’ category is the engagement, or re-engagement, of retired mechanics.
We are asking the question: what circumstances would encourage master technicians to come back into the workshop on a part time, part-day basis to make a unique contribution to easing the labour force challenges and at the same time, adding the wisdom and experience that our industry values so highly.
We know that auto trades are hard work, and after a lifetime it takes a toll on the body.
Years of physically challenging work can lead to master techs retiring early, but we also know that many (probably the vast majority) continue to be consulted on complex repairs and many have that car in the shed they are lovingly repairing and restoring.
Despite retirement, we clearly have dedicated auto professions that still love the trade and still have so much to offer.
So, what if we could match retired professionals with workshops that need mentoring, wisdom, service management or business management support and expertise?
We aren’t necessarily talking about going back on the tools for the physically demanding work, but rather engaging in the aspects of the business that can benefit from their skills and experience and freeing up the existing labour for service and repair.
We effectively have a demand and supply question here.
The supply side is: what are retired mechanics prepared to offer and on what terms? And after we understand what might be on offer, we must ask what is the demand for this potential labour effort?
For example, if hypothetically we found a retired mechanic prepared to work for 10 hours per week, what would you use that labour for?
That’s what we want to explore in the next three months with a new project to engage retired mechanics.
We are going to start with the supply side.
As such, a series of structured discussions with retired mechanics is being designed right now with the objective to explore willingness to work, the type of work they would consider, and on what basis including wages, conditions, and hours.
So far, the anecdotal evidence is really encouraging, and a small number of workshops have already expressed interest in the project and the potential option of utilising additional labour from retired auto professionals.
Technicians that have recently given up the tools are a mixed group – some level of interest is there, but we don’t have a sense yet of what work would be possible, and on what terms. That’s what we would like to find out.
To this end, we are going to be putting together some group discussions, initially in Victoria and Queensland, and we would love an opportunity to invite retirees to the pub for a counter meal to ask a set of guided questions about how they feel about a potential part time return to the industry that is eager to embrace and utilise their wisdom, their technical knowledge, their experience and mostly, their love of all things automotive.
So, if you know (or are) a recently retired auto tech, we would love to chat with you – please email firstname.lastname@example.org