Next government “must prioritise education and upskilling”

Education and the upskilling of workers are the two key areas the next UK government needs to focus on to support the aftermarket, especially independent firms, on its transition to an electric future.

If not, there is a “serious risk” that the UK, which employs some 866,000 workers within automotive, will fall behind in the global EV race – the biggest change the industry has seen since the arrival of the Ford Model T.

The country will go to the polls on 4 July.

“There is a clear opportunity for the next government to learn from the past and provide the support and infrastructure that will ensure UK automotive remains a global leader, as well as give UK motorists and businesses confidence”, said Steve Nash, CEO of major body Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI).

“However, without correctly maintained and repaired vehicles, supported by a sufficiently populated, diverse, qualified, and continuously trained workforce this fundamental is at serious risk.”

So far, only a handful of manufacturers have taken it upon themselves to train workers. JLR, formerly Jaguar Land Rover, for example has upskilled 1651 mechanics across 135 workshops in a bid to address escalating EV repair costs.

LKQ is another to get mechanics up to speed through its popular Academy. “Training is key. It is all going to be about skills in the future,” its UK and Ireland CEO Kevan Wooden recently told CAT.

“We are all working towards the same goal; everybody’s got to win in this.”

He added: “And the pace of change in the automotive sector means the aftermarket’s SMEs (small and medium businesses) are particularly exposed to the challenges of technological change and a skills crisis.”

As such, he’s called on the next government to give small and medium businesses (SMEs) tax breaks to “support their need to invest in new equipment”.

“They need greater incentives through tax breaks to support the outlay required,” he said.

Another issue raised is the Apprenticeship Levy. A report from CAT earlier this year found that fewer than a quarter (23%) of garages in the UK have an apprentice on their books.

“The Levy now does more harm than good, especially to larger garages,” said Wooden.

“Most alarmingly, since its introduction in 2017 the number of apprentices starting in SMEs has plummeted by 49%.”

As well as training, collaboratively made legislation is needed to open the industry and allow the UK’s aftermarket to “compete” with other markets, the Independent Automotive Aftermarket Federation.

“Our concerns centre around the restrictions that this new automotive landscape creates on the abilities of the UK’s independent aftermarket to continue to provide competitive consumer choices,” it said in a statement.

“The rise of electrification, software-defined vehicles, and remote access to vehicle generated data and information heralds a new era of mobility, demanding innovative solutions and new business models.

“However, looking ahead to the next five years, ‘smart regulation’ will be essential to secure the sector’s ability to compete, particularly concerning access to critical vehicle data and information.

“We strongly advocate for collaborative efforts between policymakers and industry stakeholders to ensure the future of a competitive automotive aftermarket.”

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