Garages are deliberately not publicising anything to do with their technicians and their qualifications, due to intense competition and the probability of staff being approached by rivals with offers of employment.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior figure working with a large garage network specialising in fleet told CAT: “Because there’s such a shortage of technicians – and this has been going on for at least the last 12 months – garages are quite shy about publishing the qualifications their staff has. Other people can see this, so they try and poach each other’s staff.

“It’s so competitive at the moment, and if you were a garage owner, the last thing you’d want to do is publish your list of technicians.”

Anecdotally, CAT has been informed that technicians have applied for and accepted higher-paid positions at competing workshops, only to use the offers as leverage for pay increases and remain with their existing employers.

We also hear that some older technicians are leaving the industry, because they do not wish to retrain to work on electric vehicles. Some are said to be establishing businesses to focus on older cars.

Andy Savva of The Garage Inspector claimed low pay, poor working conditions and misleading job adverts were among the reasons for the current issues. He said the former was “a major hurdle… let alone the fact that techs have to buy their own tools.

“Job adverts advise you the salary is £25,000 basic and, on bonus-related targets, you could earn £50,000. I would love to see how many candidates actually achieve these bonuses when, in nearly all cases, productivity is out of the technician’s hands.

Andy Savva
Andy Savva

“If a candidate ticks most of the credentials an employer is seeking, why not start them on £40,000 with no bonuses?”

In January 2020, Frank Harvey, head of member services at the Independent Garage Association, described the shortage of technicians as “the number one issue facing the automotive sector”. He claimed the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy – in which employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3m contribute 0.5%, allegedly to boost the quality and number of apprenticeships – had failed.

At the time, the think tank Education and Skills suggested the levy was mainly spent on existing adult workers, instead of training young people.

Harvey said: “It appears that larger employers paying the levy are… using it to fund what would normally be college or university courses, while the grassroot craft-skilled posts become virtually devoid of funding due to low entrant numbers. Smaller employers are finding it more and more difficult to not only recruit apprentices but also to find funded courses.”

Steve Nash, chief executive of the Institute of the Motor Industry, told CAT that a short-term approach to recruitment had compounded the problem.

IMI Chief Exec Steve Nash

“Speak to any of the recruiters in our industry and, regardless of what positions they are looking at, people only think about it when somebody leaves. They phone up the recruiters and say, ‘I want a clone of that person tomorrow morning’, and that just doesn’t happen.”

Paddy O’Connell, head of operations at the National Franchised Dealers Association, suggested engagement initiatives could improve retention and described a project at one dealer group, which led to a revised but popular rota system.

“You need to ask the people what they want; a shorter working week on a rota was one of the results. Traditionally, you’d work nine to five; now, you might work three-and-a-half days a week, but do your hours within that time.

“It went down particularly well with dealerships with more than 12/15 ramps, and actually improves efficiency
as well as attrition rates.”

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