There is no doubt that we are living through unprecedented times and trying to deal with a virus that is indiscriminate. Social media is awash with stories and praise for the nurses and doctors but also other key workers such as police, fire, ambulance and public sector staff such as refuse collectors.
These of course are the public facing workers who are seen working every day and the public shows of appreciation for such key workers is pleasing but it is indeed sad that such an event had to occur to make people appreciate the hard work put in by thousands of public sector workers on their behalf.
One thing many of these workers have in common is their reliance on vehicles. Whether that is a fire appliance, an ambulance, police car/ van or refuse collection truck. The other thing they all have in common is the need for this myriad of vehicles to be maintained and repaired in order that the services can continue seamlessly. Consider if you will the vehicle engineers and mechanics, the unsung ‘back room’ staff who maintain these vehicles and keep them in fully operational condition.
For many years the trade of vehicle mechanic has been taken for granted but those of us in the know realise just how important the role is and equally how short of qualified mechanics and technicians the country at large is. Like many of the technical and engineering trades the existing workforce is ageing and there is a dramatic shortage of youngsters joining the professions to take their place.
I have worked for several organisations who have done their best to encourage school leavers to take up an apprenticeship and indeed several of those schemes were successful but it has, over the years, become more difficult to find educational establishments that offer heavy goods vehicle engineering support as part of their apprenticeship schemes.
Now most budding mechanics will always start on smaller vehicles, cars and vans for example, but there comes a time when the employers want them to step up and provide training for the heavier (and dirtier!) vehicles. Many apprentices drop out after gaining their ‘basics’ lured, in many cases, by the glitz and glamour of the retail motor industry.
So what can be done to remedy the situation before it is too late?
Collectively we have a massive challenge to make the industry an attractive one to join. Clearly the rates of pay are an essential basis for a job but equally many entrants will be looking for career prospects. Do we offer them? Do we encourage young engineers to aspire to become workshop managers or even fleet managers? Do we approach the colleges and universities to ask if they are offering the right sort of training support?
These are all rhetorical questions as, in my opinion and experience, rates of pay are meagre and career prospects are slim. It is high time we all got together to review the state of the industry and to identify what we can do together to make it a destination of choice for school leavers.
Pay alone won’t make the difference in the long term so consider what other benefits we can implement to help out the situation? ‘Golden hello’ payments (particularly in areas where the cost of living is high), top class working conditions with modern, up to date equipment, regular training, prospects for promotion but above all recognition that they are key members of your organisation
Let’s be realistic – without a team of dedicated and skilled engineers working on our vehicles, the services that they are used to provide will inevitably suffer.
Vehicles of all shapes and sizes and ancillary equipment used by the emergency and public sectors are, by their very nature, highly complex.
So, whilst we are all awaiting for the lockdown to be eased and, hopefully, removed altogether in the near future, let’s take some time to think about how we ensure that there is a sustainable and steady increase in entrants to our field of motor engineering.
When you next stand on your doorstep to clap for the NHS and key workers, spare a thought for the mechanics who are working tirelessly to keep your fleet safe and mobile.