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Future governments must tackle skills gap ‘timebomb’

by LLB political Reporter
18th Jun 24 9:21 am

Steve Horne, CEO of GSF Car Parts, has today warned that the UK’s automotive sector is now facing a skills gap “timebomb” – and urged any future government to get to grips with the problem urgently.

In today’s intervention, which comes ahead of a major industry trade event, Horne goes on to say that the skills gap is an “artificial straitjacket” around UK independent garages. He argues this is stifling the market’s potential and increasing costs for motorists.

GSF Car Parts is the UK’s leading distributor of car parts in the UK, with 185 branches and over 3,000 team members. It is the only UK-owned national car parts distributor in the country. GSF recently announced a multi-million-pound investment in a new 500,000-sq-ft distribution centre in Wolverhampton to super-charge the company’s growth.

Steve Horne, CEO of GSF Car Parts, said, “The skills gap currently facing the sector is a huge ticking timebomb – and it only seems to be getting wider and wider. This is incredibly painful for garages that are successfully winning work and looking to grow.

“The skills gap is a straitjacket around the growth ambitions of the entire sector. GSF Car Parts is recruiting heavily and adding a huge range of skilled jobs. But finding people is a real challenge for the sector, and there is no sign that this will let up any time soon.

“As a company, we want to grow too: we have invested millions in scaling our business and driving growth, but our success depends on our customers being able to thrive. And for that, they need skilled technicians in big numbers.”

Horne also adds that the skills gap could have a detrimental impact on UK consumers, reducing choice, competition and ultimately driving up the costs of motoring when many are already feeling the pinch with the move to an EV future.

Horne’s intervention comes ahead of GSF’s TechFest Garage Technology Festival. Hosted in Wembley from 4pm today, the trade event will bring together the major suppliers from across the automotive industry to deliver critical updates on new technology and business opportunities to support independent garages.

Horne added, “We need to sort this out – and quickly. We need to direct more young people to the sector, give the industry a name as an ideal career destination, whilst opening more routes for young people.

“The independent garage sector has been in the shadows too long. There are exceptional people working in skilled roles on incredibly complex vehicle technologies. The public’s perception may be of people twirling spanners, but technicians need a raft of skills to deal with today’s cars.

“At the end of the day, motorists are what keep our society and economy moving. But cars need to be maintained safely and effectively, and at the moment, it sometimes feels we’re going into a battle with a blunt knife.”

Other attendees of TechFest also echoed Horne’s sentiment. Ambi Singh, CEO of Easy2Recruit, a recruitment agency that helps UK garages and automotive businesses hire high-quality overseas talent, argues worker shortages threaten the UK automotive sector’s ability to compete at a global level.

Ambi Singh, CEO of Easy2Recruit, said: “The motor industry is facing a significant and serious challenge when it comes to staffing. Figures from the Institute of the Motor Industry are already predicting a huge worker shortfall this decade, with the most significant gap coming from vehicle technician roles.”

The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) recently predicted a shortfall of 160,000 workers this decade, with major concerns around the number of vehicle technicians. They also found that the vacancy rate in the motor trade is currently running at its highest point in 21 years, with 5.1 jobs out of every 100 vacant, a ratio only surpassed by vacancies in accommodation and food services.

Singh added, “This shortage poses a direct threat to the UK’s automotive industry’s ability to innovate and compete on a global stage, especially in the shift towards sustainable and electric vehicles. The urgency of this matter cannot be overstated.

“In order to help alleviate this crisis, I recently wrote to the Home Secretary, requesting vehicle technicians, mechanics and electricians be added to the Shortage Occupation List. This critical step will enable the automotive sector to access the global talent pool, ensuring sustained growth and innovation within the industry.”

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