UK automotive industry is undertrained and understaffed

The automotive industry in the UK is in good health at the moment, but a lack of skills and insufficient training could significantly impact progress.

A report from the Automotive Council found that a lack of skills means there up to 5,000 unfilled positions in the industry right now, while a further 20,000 people already working require additional training.

They’re the headline findings of a report developed by automotive industry consultants SMMT Industry Forum on behalf of the Automotive Industrial Partnership.

It surveyed a range of British-based automotive firms, from vehicle manufacturers to component suppliers, to identify the areas of employment most difficult to recruit. Of the top 10 job types most difficult to fill, the majority are in engineering, with the top two in-demand roles being design and production engineers.

The knock-on effect, according to the report, is that companies are hiring temporary contractors and increasingly recruiting from abroad.

The UK automotive industry sustains nearly 800,000 jobs across Britain and car production volumes are expected to reach an all-time high of two million in 2020. Productivity has also increased by 40% since 2010, making UK labour productivity the highest in Europe.

But this success could be undermined by the lack of skilled engineers, despite efforts made by companies to increase training and apprenticeships.

Jo Lopes, chair of the Automotive Industrial Partnership and head of technical excellence, Jaguar Land Rover, said, ‘These are very significant findings which present a valuable basis for government and industry to jointly tackle this issue head-on and ensure that the growth potential of the industry in the coming years is fulfilled.

‘The Automotive Industrial Partnership has already made some important steps since its inception – including the introduction of a range of training programmes – and it will have a crucial role to play in addressing the skills challenge.’

Skills minister Nick Boles said, ‘This report shows we cannot be complacent. The sector needs to maintain its high productivity and international competitiveness and address the required demand of skilled workforce, engineers and designers. The Automotive Industrial Partnership is a good example of government and industry working together, and I welcome this report.’

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, added, ‘The automotive industry has already invested heavily in apprenticeships and training for existing staff to grow and develop a new generation of skilled workers. However, even more support is needed.

‘The struggle to fill vacancies is holding back growth and opportunities for business, and it is essential that both government and industry work together quickly to identify ways to plug this gap. Future schemes must focus on quality not just quantity – and more support is needed to promote STEM subjects in schools.’

In addition to the new personnel needed, there are also new training requirements due to the adoption of new automotive technologies. According to the report, 71 different types of learning are required for more than 20,000 people working in the industry – 15% of whom have an immediate need for new training.

The most critical training requirements are in lean manufacturing (minimising waste), advanced problem solving and tool making.

The report sets out a range of recommendations to tackle the skills shortage. These include the implementation of a co-ordinated approach to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in schools, as well as businesses ensuring that apprenticeship opportunities on offer from government are maximised.