With multiple lockdowns causing stops and starts in training over the past year, how has the industry coped?
Although the past year has thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to training in the automotive sector, training providers have shifted their approach and have been able to continue supporting the industry.
The IMI got in early, announcing in March 2020 that it would be using its online training capability to provide training to dealers during the coronavirus crisis. More recently CUPRA took its training online, using a virtual space called CUPRA e-Garage to help CUPRA Specialists develop their skills and give access to an array of technical content.
Motor Trader spoke to James Hodges, who has 10 years’ experience in automotive skills training as part of various organisations, to find out how training methods have changed and what dealers and apprentices are looking for.
Adapting to change
An apprenticeship technician undergoes a three-year programme, and a good percentage of their time would usually be taken up by going into a training academy on a block release basis to receive some face-to-face technical training. This, however, has become “very much stop/start depending on the lockdown situation,” according to Hodges.
He said: “Training has shifted online. It has moved into video content, webinars, and virtual classrooms. The industry has recognised that if you are more of a practical learner, then taking practical content on-board is better in a video format. So rather than just having a half an hour webinar, it is often better to offer five-minute chunks of visual and verbal, animated content.”
When COVID first hit there was an element of confusion around what furlough was, which led to many apprentices experiencing a break in learning, where their learning was stopped. Hodges explained:
“And then the government identified that even on furlough you can take part in training and development, so that brought a few apprentices back. But different training providers have different methods. In the first lockdown some of the major dealer groups who would usually take a few hundred apprentices across multiple brands, placed their apprenticeship recruitment on hold, partly because nobody knew what the landscape was going to look like going forward.
“As things started to open and there was a lot of chatter around pent-up demand, there were government incentives encouraging employees to take on apprentices. I do not think numbers have completely recovered, but they are getting close to where they potentially would have been had COVID not hit.”
Bringing back apprentices
There is now talk around the industry about recruiting apprentices once again, with dealer groups such as Vertu Motors, JCT600 and Lookers announcing that they will be recruiting this year.
The latest group to annouced its 2021 plans was Arnold Clark, which said that this year the number of apprentices will be smaller than the 400 taken on in 2019.
However, the 2021 programme adds financial incentives to recognise those that go the extra mile, giving them control of their own earnings for the first time. Throughout the pandemic, Arnold Clark continued to support its apprentices, adapting to offer remote learning and bringing them back into the workshops to continue their development when it was safe to do so.
Hodges feels there is a definite desire to see apprentices being recruited in the automotive sector for 2021.
He said: “From the conversations I have had with employers, learning development managers, apprenticeship managers, and sometimes apprentices, it is apparent that they are tech savvy people and learning online is not that big a deal. There are some challenges around being able to observe the practical application of training, which has required some creative thinking for training providers.”
Following the announcement of the 2030 ban on the sale of new ICE vehicles, there has seen a spike in enquiries about EV training. Hodges said: “With EVs there is a significant skills gap. The IMI reported that only 5% of technicians are EV trained and registered on their TechSafe scheme. With regards to where the focus is, from a technical point of view it is very much around the level three qualification. This level means that as a technician, if an EV comes into my workshop I can repair it, I can maintain it, and I can replace parts. That is a significant area of investment that is being made by workshops and manufacturers.
“For example, I know of one brand that between March and December 2021 wants at least two technicians to be trained at level three in each of its dealerships.
“What I am seeing with the clients that I am working with is that they are not saying everybody’s going to be qualified at this moment in time, but they want to see at least one or two technicians in each of their workshops, who are qualified to look at EVs and manage that.”
This training also applies outside the workshop. Hodges spoke on non-technical staff and how a basic knowledge of EVs will allow them to better perform their roles, safely and in an informed manner.
He said: “The IMI have introduced what is known as a level one, which represents a basic safety and awareness award. Companies that deliver vehicles are seeing an increase of moving electric vehicles around the country or storing and prepping them, so therefore need to increase their safety and compliance around EVs.
“This non-technical side also extends to sales and customer service. These roles are both seeing EVs or hybrids coming in and there is a different conversation to be had with the customers. So, they also need training.
“Demand for EV related training will probably level off a little bit 2022, but as you start to see stock coming into the aftermarket and non-franchise market there will be another spike when dealers begin to see fewer diesel or petrol coming in for services and repairs, and more EVs are being seen.”
What is next?
With younger apprentices at ease with living in a world where most things have an online presence, taking an online course is something they are likely to be comfortable with. Hodges said: “I think that digital aspects to an apprenticeships will be a bit more of a requirement. There is still a skills shortage and diversity problem within the sector
“Although with initiatives like the 30% club driving diversity this is improving. But, I recently spoke to a significant employer of technicians who has 55% of its workforce retiring in the next 10 years.
“The use of government incentives to attract and engage with a different audience is going to be important. One of the challenges for the sector is attracting a different potential future technician or person and demonstrating the opportunities available..
“There is a constant skills shortage in MOT testers and vehicle technicians, which has the potential to drive wage inflation. So, I think there is a definite focus on attraction to the sector”
Looking at new technologies, Hodges feels that 5G connected vehicles will be a steep learning curve for the industry, particularly in the non-franchised market.
He said: “I think that is going to be a big challenge for them and how they prepare their workshop network and equip and train employees in cybersecurity and the connected vehicle diagnostics.”