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The HGV Technician Shortage needs addressing!

A couple of weeks ago I attended the CILT Transport & Safety Forum Annual Conference and one of my key takeaways was not something you might expect. It was a great event, well organised with some fantastic visitors. As some of you will know I am a member of the forum and Flagship Partners exhibited.

So as I prepared to go on and host the panel questions for the first 3 speakers at the conference I was bowled over by a statistic shared by Karl Wilshaw, Fleet Director of Travis Perkins. Which was the current expectations for filling vacancies, including a number of roles, drivers, flt drivers, warehouse managers and transport managers. The most frightening statistic was for Fitters/mechanics/technicians, this was ‘Severe’ 32.6%, ‘Very Severe’ 32.6% of respondents. That’s 65.2% voting that they are seeing a severe or very severe shortage for these roles. “Chronic labour shortages persist. HGV mechanics are now the most difficult roles to fill with 95% of respondents struggling to fill roles in Q2 2022, up from 79% in Q1.” Acknowledgement and Source: Logistics Uk (September 2022)

I write this article firstly out of huge concern for the issue and secondly to keep my brain active as my wife Maggie insists on watching some z list celebrity clown, who should be serving his constituency eat a sheep’s intestines or something (I’m not listening!)

The driver shortage has now been well documented and the public at large have become acutely aware of it. With government intervention, training camps and an astronomical shift in wages for drivers has consequently resulted in another concerning trend. A huge shortage of workshop technicians. A vital role in the industry as who else will take a hands on approach to ensuring the roadworthiness of our vehicles?!

What could a major shortage of workshop technicians mean? Well it will means that there will be a deterioration in the quality of maintenance and there roadworthiness of our vehicles.

This is a scary prospect and left unchecked will mean vehicles delayed their periodic inspections, vehicles being parked up. Defects being left for later on. Workshops closing due to owners giving up on finding good people. There is already an issue with a shortage of high quality workshop facilities in the industry!

As a former main dealer workshop manager I feel ideally positioned to comment on this potential catastrophe. I have witnessed what is like to suffer a workshop staff shortage. Workshops work by aligning technicians time with the time required to both inspect and repair vehicles. In many cases the business will operate by ensuring the more ‘utilised’, ‘productive’ & ‘efficient’ the technician the better overall performance for the business.

When there is a shortage of people to cover the required work on a shift or any given week, standards drop. Technicians are under more pressure to complete inspections, after all no operator will accept that their vehicle hasn’t been inspected when it is due. Operator license undertakings make no allowances for that, nor do the tight margins vehicle operators run to. Therefore productivity of their assets is paramount. The issue is then compounded because you get quality and standards creep.

Defects that could have been repaired there and then get put off to the next inspection. After all the team will be back to full force when the vehicle revisits. The challenge is, that the team never become back to full strength because the workshop are persistently recruiting and overall, there is also a shortage in good quality technicians too.

The challenge is further compounded by increased complexity of vehicles and their systems making diagnosis and repairs increasingly complex and technician competence increasingly important too. After all those vehicle operators among you reading will know for sure the pain of misdiagnosis, expensive repair for defects not to be actually fixed!

Just this week I was speaking to a main dealer workshop manager, his biggest problem was a shortage of good people, compounded by the length of time, investment and distraction of other competent technicians (who are already under immense pressure) to train up new technicians. Remember a hgv driver shortage can be spun around in 1 to 2 weeks of training in many cases! A decent inspection technician 3 years plus, a decent repair technician 4-5 years, a quality master/diagnostic technician 5 years+! Remembering that many technicians won’t ever become competent enough to properly diagnose faults on modern vehicles.

Anyway back to my mate, he works for the main dealer. The manufacturer interest level in his and his compatriots challenge of workshop technicians is exactly nil, zero, zilch, nada….. The reason, they are massively distracted with the race to electric and other alternative fuels.

So how do we fix this mess? We need to refocus on the shortage in the same way we did the driver shortage. Operators stop accepting under performance from your workshops. Hold them to account for their shortfalls.

We need to make more noise to the power and policy makers, the vehicle manufacturers to invest in making a technicians role, the apprenticeship programme and the ongoing benefits better. To improve working conditions in workshops and improve the quality of training for technicians too. Promoting our wonderful industry as a great place to work.

It is vital we escalate this issue now before it is too late and everyone is looking in the wrong direction. All those electric and alternative fuelled vehicles won’t matter if there is no one to maintain them!