The Motor Trades Association of Australia in August 2017 released a report indicating that Australia had significant shortages of motor mechanics (over 16,500), diesel mechanics (over 2,500), plant mechanics, panel beaters…Many dealers must be wondering how did we get into this situation? Why are there so many unfilled vacancies for the motor trades??
Unfortunately, there is no one answer and it is a little complex. Basically, the reasons we have skills shortages in the motor trades in Australia are due to:
• Lack of interest by young people in the motor trades (social media tends to dazzle them with more interesting roles!);
• The work has changed: whereas previously a ‘petrol head’ would make a good mechanic, now the motor mechanic has to be quite smart, adaptable and able to diagnose problems;
• Apprentice attrition is appallingly high at around 50 per cent for most roles;
• Cutbacks in funding for vocational training by most governments in Australia;
• Longer warranty periods means increased demands for vehicles to be serviced for many more years than was previously the case;
• Product failures and increased consumer expectations require significantly more after sales repair and replacement work (ie: Takata airbag recall).
The implications of the skills shortages for the dealerships are significant and include:
• Disgruntled customers due to longer lead times to book in cars for services and repairs;
• Each empty hoist means a loss of income of around $20,000 per month (depending upon the brand of vehicle) and around $7,000 per month in profit;
• Customers going to independent workshops.
The traditional solution by many is to poach from competitors but this becomes self-defeating and only puts significant pressure on increasing wages. As most employers have found, poaching eventually means that others will poach from you. We have to remember that if there is a limited pool of skilled technicians, all poaching achieves is to deny the candidate to a competitor who then has the skills shortage…. The only way to break this self-defeating cycle is to source skilled workers from overseas and ‘lock them in’ to a position for a period of at least four years.
In my next article, I will discuss options on how to recruit skilled overseas technicians and the pros and cons.

Tony Mitchener

Tony Mitchener
Tony has been involved in human resources development for over 35 years in federal and state governments, industry, a university and an RTO, including roles in personnel and recruitment, industrial relations, training, business development and international human resource management. In 1993-94 Tony was a vocational policy adviser on the staff of the Australian Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training. Tony has also worked at a senior level for around 10 years in Thailand and Indonesia assisting those countries with various projects to develop their human resources through education and training and was the Australian Government representative accredited to the South East Asian Ministers of Education Organization.
Tony has been involved with In Work International for more than three years and is responsible for assisting dealer networks in regional and city areas.