Driving talent in the UK automotive sector

Jo Lopes says the automotive sector has much to be proud of, but danger lies ahead if it can’t attract enough new talent into all levels of the business.

Britain has a rich engineering heritage and one of the most thriving manufacturing industries in the world. Globally, it’s the second largest producer of premium cars, and almost 80% of all UK automotive produce is exported abroad.

Jo Lopes, Head of Technical Excellence, Jaguar Land Rover
Jo Lopes, head of technical excellence, Jaguar Land Rover.

Consequently, it is leading the way as the most productive of all major European car producers.

A recent report by the Automotive Industrial Partnership (AIP) has revealed the extent of the renaissance of the UK automotive industry since the recession.

Just to quote a headline, last year was the best in a decade for car production, with over 1.6 million vehicles and 2.4 million engines produced in the UK. This growth is forecast to reach an all-time record high in 2020, with the production of two million vehicles annually.

With this increase in manufacture and output, automotive employment is also on the rise. According to statistics by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, 146,000 individuals are now employed within the UK automotive industry in areas as diverse as programmable controls, robotics and advanced problem solving.

Like most of the manufacturing sector, these roles require employees with in-depth, industry-specific training.

UK Automotive Sector - PQ 2016Crucial to the continuation of the industry’s success therefore is the ability of the automotive sector to attract and train talent in the skills required. With demand for workers now outstripping the available labour, this necessity has taken on a new urgency.

Leaking candidates

According to the AIP’s report, there were 6,000 vacancies within the automotive sector between January to September 2015. Just over 2,000 of these were highlighted by the employers surveyed as ‘challenging’ or ‘difficult to fill’ and one quarter were classed as having a significant impact on company operations.

Moreover, the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT), in a report conducted for the AIP, warned that the industry would require another 50,000 employees by 2020, in order to keep up with manufactural demand.

Such is the scale of the challenge. Quite simply, there are not enough individuals with the necessary skills and training to fill the job vacancies within the industry. According to the AIP’s survey of 61 automotive companies, 17% of establishments within the automotive sector are currently suffering from significant skill gaps, and this figure rises to 30% among SMEs.

UK Automotive Sector Worker
According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, the UK automotive industry employs 146,000 individuals.

This skill shortage, if not addressed, is predicted to undermine the future global competitiveness of the industry, according to new research carried out by the Advanced Manufacturing Skills Body, SEMTA.

And while the automotive sector has a notable history of providing skill-specific training and apprenticeships, this has yet to bridge the industry’s long-standing skill-gap. The expansion of graduate and apprenticeship programmes across the whole of the UK automotive industry is therefore essential, in order to meet the envisaged growth of business and technological developments.

Ironically, the manufacturing industry as a whole is actually attracting a large flow of great young talent, particularly at the scale of bigger manufactures. Yet the progression of young applicants to become trained professionals is relatively poor, with many being lost to other sectors.

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One of the main reasons for this is oversubscription to larger OEM schemes. Large household name employers such as those involved in the AIP, do not have a problem in recruiting apprentices. In fact, they fill positions relatively easily.

The issue lies in the fact that many high quality candidates who do not attain places on larger automotive apprenticeship programmes are lost to the apprenticeship pipeline due to a lack of available guidance on alternative options within the sector.

Matching talent

That is why the new Automotive Apprenticeship Matching Service (AAMS), facilitated by apprenticeship matching platform – GetMyFirstJob, is such a valuable platform for young people and the UK automotive sector.

The matching service works smartly and collaboratively with candidates and companies across the supply chain to reduce candidate ‘leakage’. By redirecting high calibre applications from oversubscribed automotive apprenticeship programmes to other companies within the sector where opportunities are available, it ensures that new talent is retained by the automotive sector.

These candidates will have undergone vigorous testing and interviews in order to ensure they are of the right calibre. Consequently, the matching service is expected to be of particular benefit to smaller automotive companies, who do not have the resources to source this talent on their own.

Engineering Automotive Line Stock Image
Each year the AMMS is predicted to help 10,000 young people who are not offered roles with the likes of JLR, Vauxhall and Bentley to find work elsewhere in the sector.

Each year the AMMS is predicted to help up to 10,000 young people who are not offered roles with the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, Vauxhall and Bentley to find work elsewhere in the sector, rather than be lost to different industries.

The scheme is helping to encourage more employers to take up apprenticeships across the industry and to ensure high standards are maintained throughout the industry. Moreover, the hope is that it will start to provide apprentices a greater breadth of learning.

With new figures released by Autocar revealing that just over 10% more cars were produced in the first three months of 2016 compared to the same period last year, it is clear that the demand for new skills will only increase.

Let us meet the challenge head on and ensure that platforms such as the Automotive Apprenticeship Matching Service will help fuel this great industry with the talent that can keep it competitive.