In this article, ARCA’s Mike Smith provides an update on recent discussions with Federal Member of Parliament Vince Connelly

I was recently pleased to meet with Federal Member for Stirling (WA), Vince Connelly MP, alongside AAAA’s Director of Government Relations and Advocacy, Lesley Yates; Capricorn Society Area Manager, Sue Walker; Australian Automotive Services Dealer Network WA (AASDN WA) Vice Chairman, Nigel Oborne; and AASDN WA members, Dave Durrant and Ken Ringrose.
Mr Connelly has an excellent relationship with auto workshops in WA and in his electorate particularly. He has taken an interest in several issues that affect this industry and I am pleased to report he has agreed to host a visit to two workshops in his electorate.
One of the core issues we discussed with Mr Connelly was the fact that skill shortages within the automotive industry are currently at their highest proportions ever recorded. In 2017 the national shortage was reported at 27,377 skilled positions and was forecast to rise to over 35,000 positions over the following years. These skill shortages are constraining business productivity, planning, investment, and growth.
We discussed with him the key reasons for skill shortages, include declining levels of new entrants into automotive trades, the poor quality of available labour, and problems with attraction and retention of labour, as well as suggestions for tackling these problems.
As part of this meeting, we were able to present to him the findings of our 2020 survey into Australian auto repair and service workshops, which revealed that staffing challenges remain as the single most consistent issue across all workshops. Key takeaways from that research included:
• Mechanics aged 50+ make up an average of 41 percent of a workshop’s qualified mechanics.
• 30 percent of auto service and repair workshops are turning away customers because “we don’t have enough staff.”
• 46 percent of our high performing workshops offer ‘second chance’ jobs (for example to ex-offenders/prisoners).
• The industry is working hard to enhance both the image and the understanding of auto trades as high tech, computer driven trades with a strong future in new technology applications.
• Workshops are also actively involved in offering incentives to improve recruitment and retention rates.
• The industry is engaging with career counsellors to promote auto trades.
It was discussed and agreed that while the industry is making important strides forward to address the skill shortages with retention programs and cooperative and innovative recruitment initiatives, more could be achieved with government cooperation.
One particular area in which we are seeking government dialogue is regarding mature-age apprentices and ‘second chance’ employment.
Our industry is seeing an increase in the take-up of older job seekers (aged 19 – 25 years) and is uniquely well placed to mentor and support these employees as on average, independent workshops are comprised of six to eight employees with owners actively working in the business: these experienced and caring individuals can offer supervision, mentoring and pastoral care. In fact, there are very few industries that are better placed as a location for ‘second chance’ gainful employment than ours.
While this is true, we are finding the current take-up of these kinds of job seekers is higher in larger workshops because there is a significant cost to the business: older apprentices are likely to be paid at the top of the apprentice salary, despite having little or no industry experience, because salary rates are fixed to the employee’s age and not their years of experience.
This means a workshop is paying a third-year apprentice salary to a brand-new employee who is both unlikely to be generating income and requires extensive supervision from the experienced technicians. However that has not prevented a large proportion of our industry trying to make it work because we know offering a second chance to a person who wants to work is an important social and community contribution and we are in a good position to make that contribution.
We do not want to pay older apprentices a lower wage, but as an industry we want to be able to do more to provide these job seekers with meaningful and dignified work, so we believe that dialogue with government around how we could make this work for the economy, for the workshop and most importantly the individuals concerned would be highly valuable.
Thanks to the success of this meeting, Mr Connelly is now assisting the AAAA in requesting to meet Senator Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.
It is our hope that we can meet with the Senator on-location at two workshops in Mr Connelly’s electorate, where we hope to join with other representatives of WA’s automotive industry to discuss innovative methods of addressing critical automotive trades skill shortages and demonstrate the success (and potential growth) of ‘second chance’ jobs.
Also to be presented in this meeting will be the findings of an Apprenticeships Survey which will soon be released to AAAA members and Capricorn members.
I will be sure to keep you up to date with how these discussions unfold.

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.