Coach and bus sector facing engineering skill shortages

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Whilst a skills shortage of engineering-based roles in the automotive sector is nothing new, an ageing workforce within the bus and coach sector and subsequent retirements are out-pacing the volume of new entrants says one engineering specialist. The recruitment of mechanics and technicians in particular continues to be a significant challenge for bus garages and workshops according to the Motor Ombudsman, warns Imperial Engineering.

In a survey, more than two thirds of businesses accredited by the Motor Ombudsman said their biggest issue was getting hold of qualified mechanics, and as a result, many operators said they have resorted to recruiting suitable technical personnel from outside the sector and then training them in-house. Economic and political uncertainty has also played a part in the reluctance of businesses to take on new apprentices, which is also having a negative effect on the future skills pool, the businesses reported.

HR and recruitment specialist Excel Resourcing, which works with bus operators across the UK, says there are very few companies that don’t require extra labour in the workshop. Most are reliant on sourcing temporary contract labour to meet the demand, the company says. It believes there has been a major shift in the labour market with more experienced technicians choosing to freelance and adds that there are huge concerns in the sector, as the existing workforce is ageing and there’s not enough new blood coming into the industry fast enough to replace it. “We have just over 250 technicians working with us and 80% of them are over the age of 45,” a spokesperson said, with sources suggesting that the demand for PSV technicians and mechanics is at an all-time high as commercial vehicle workshops try to keep up with evolving new bus technology as well as day-to-day maintenance of existing vehicles.

During National Apprenticeship Week in 2022, a number of the bus industry’s largest operators pledged their commitment to apprenticeship programmes, which was welcomed by parts supplier Imperial Engineering. Technical Sales Director John Dwight commented: “Like many sectors of industry at the moment, the recruitment of skilled individuals is perhaps the biggest challenge. It’s very encouraging that there is widespread appreciation for the value of apprenticeships, who are critical to the future workforce but there is clearly a need to onboard people right now. Imperial recognises that the demand for multi-skilled engineers with diagnostic and electrical skills will only increase. For our part, we aim to continue our association with the IRTE Skills Challenge, which is an excellent shop window for highlighting the sector as a skilled profession.”