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UK must act fast to tackle skills famine

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Speaking at the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) Annual Dinner on Thursday 10th March, IMI CEO, Steve Nash, urged guests to urgently consider the skills gap facing the UK economy as a whole and, in particular, threatening what is currently one of the most successful facets of UK plc – the motor retail sector.

The dinner was attended by senior executives and opinion formers from the retail motor industry as well as Richard Burden, MP, Birmingham Northfield, and Senior Traffic Commissioner, Beverley Bell. “We are in the midst of a growing skills famine which needs to be addressed by businesses and by Government”, said Steve Nash.  “The Government has set a tough target on achieving 3 million new apprentices by 2020.  It is a laudable goal, but we have serious concerns that it can be achieved unless radical action is taken – and fast.

“Funding cuts in education and a total absence of independent careers advice for teenagers are conspiring to keep high quality young people out of vocational training.  Plus, to date, the new ‘Trailblazers’ approach to apprentice recruitment, training and assessment has received limited engagement across industry. Adding to uncertainty is the impact of the four month debate the UK faces over membership of the EU.  Whatever the outcome of the referendum on 23rd June, the arguments being traded between politicians and business people will do nothing to assist general business confidence.  Investment in apprentice training could suffer as a result with dire long-term consequences.

“The IMI is working hard with government and industry stakeholders alike to ensure that we embrace any positive changes, whilst striving to protect this valuable source of young talent for our industry.  Action needs to be taken urgently to ensure that uncertainty around new processes and, potentially, ill-considered change does not negatively affect recruitment decisions or devalue what we have collectively worked hard to create over many years. Regardless of political promises, the UK needs talent to be developed across all industries in order to capitalise on current economic confidence.”

Steve Nash’s concerns are reinforced by recent comments reported in the press*, by Ford and Nissan bosses in the UK.  Both claimed that one of the biggest challenges facing dealerships in 2016 is a skills shortage leading to the “untapped potential” of aftersales.  At the Geneva Motor Show, Ford of Britain chairman and managing director Andy Barratt and Nissan Motor (GB) managing director Jim Wright both expressed concerns about the difficulties that dealerships are having recruiting staff for their aftersales departments. The IMI represents the £152 billion a year retail motor industry which needs 12,000 apprentices a year to stand still.