How do you encourage people to work in workshops? The industry is launching an initiative

If we were still living in the 1990s, newspapers would be full of ads saying "Car mechanic urgently wanted." Nowadays, similar posts are on job portals, and their number increase every year. The same cannot be said about the number of mechanics. So how can this be solved? The automotive industry is working intensively on this. One initiative is the Young Car Mechanic competition, organized by Inter Cars, which SDCM joined this year as a patron.

Working in the workshop - we break down the myths

For many Poles, the first associations with auto mechanics are related to hard work, which can often be dirty and not prestigious. The continuously dominant culture of higher education and office work effectively discourages young people from attending vocational and technical schools. A belief has been formed among students and their parents that unambitious people who don't like to learn go to "vocational schools." 

As a result, the term specialist or expert is linked to a worker in a company rather than the profession of an auto mechanic, which is essentially a specialist, and highly skilled as well. Nowadays, an auto mechanic is a person who must possess a range of soft and hard skills. They often go beyond the knowledge of auto mechanics and enter areas for electricians or IT specialists. 

Besides knowledge of mechanics, pneumatics, or electrical engineering, workshop employees should be familiar with advanced diagnostic tools and data analysis software. Thus, a car mechanic is a profession that requires specialized knowledge in various areas, which must be modernized frequently due to the changing automotive landscape - including new drives, safety systems, and other technological innovations.

Knowledge and skills distribution

The responsibility for the quality of the future workforce has been carried primarily by companies involved in the distribution and production of parts for the independent automotive market. They do this through training or donations of specialized diagnostic equipment to automotive schools. Some of the activities are extremely broad, such as scholarship programs or training available through VR technology. One such program, for example, is the Młode Kadry (Young Cadres). The program supports knowledge competitions and internships for the best students and helps equip facilities with modern car repair and diagnostic equipment. 

- Distributors and manufacturers of parts have long been ensuring that workshops have employees who are well-prepared for the profession. Among other things, they are active partners in training both school students, to whom they provide modern equipment and knowledge, and workshop employees, to whom they offer the most up-to-date training. Workshops that are organized in networks can additionally count on various assistance programs to upgrade equipment and improve the quality of services offered. In recent years in our industry, the burden associated with preparing modern vehicles for service has been carried by the private sector. If the transformation in the automotive industry is to succeed, we should pay more attention to automotive workshops as well," says Tomasz Bęben, CEO of the Society of Automotive Parts Distributors and Manufacturers (SDCM).

Education is a key

Vocational education is the first and most important element in the proper functioning of the vehicle repair industry. The previously mentioned actions made by private businesses and the ongoing reform of the vocational education system have already brought the first notable benefits. As of 2019, the number of students in first- and second-degree vocational schools, as well as technical schools, has increased every year. The number of students in schools that provide training in automotive industry professions is also increasing. The Ministry of Education is working on adapting the basic curriculum to the dynamically changing market realities and introducing new professions related to electromobility into the education system.

Despite the aforementioned positives, there is still much to be done. Like a mantra, the problem of poor school equipment or the shortage of practical classes reoccurs. Attention should also be paid to training for vocational teachers. According to a survey, schools cover the costs of only 1/3 of them. The rest are financed by training providers or the teachers themselves, and less than half of them are carried out as part of a salary and 40-hour work week. As you can see, the development of school personnel competencies is currently based primarily on the willingness of teachers themselves and the initiatives of private companies, rather than on system solutions.

Practice is next

Internships are the second key component of the vocational education system. It is the element of learning that can bring the best results. During internships, students can see the advantages and disadvantages of working in their chosen profession. Internships are not possible without the significant involvement of the companies where they are carried out. However, this is something that the automotive industry is not always good at. A quarterly report prepared by MotoFocus and Santander Bank Poland in cooperation with the Association of Automotive Parts Distributors and Manufacturers and the Polish Investment and Trade Agency indicates that almost half of the workshops do not accept students for internships. MotoFocus' in-depth research also indicated that among small workshops the percentage is even higher.

- Currently, employers cannot always afford to provide internships. The main factor is the time required to provide knowledge. In a situation where there is a labor shortage and the scope of work is growing, the workshop owner faces a dilemma: whether he can afford to educate a student at the cost of repair time. Better system organizations, both from the state, schools, and entrepreneurs, can help here. Attention should be paid to the need to simplify procedures related to the state's participation in education or the promotion of patron classes. Tax initiatives for entrepreneurs educating students could also be a good idea, Alfred Franke points out.

PR is no less important

To encourage students to study and work as mechanics, it is also necessary to ensure a positive image. In this field, too, distributors and parts manufacturers are taking many initiatives. One of them is the organization of competitions such as Young Car Mechanic. This competition is a unique opportunity for young automotive students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills to gain valuable experience. One of the most important aspects of the initiative is the promotion of the auto mechanic profession among young people.

The competition is international, up to 10 countries from the Central and Eastern Europe take part in the national eliminations. The best students from each country, who win the national finals, meet at the international finals to decide who among them will hold the title of best young mechanic. The competition includes a specific list of top suppliers who are part of the partners covered in the organization entirely.

- We did not think that the Young Car Mechanic competition would be such a necessary initiative in promoting the profession of a car mechanic among students. Nevertheless, we are happy to take an active part in shaping not only Polish but also international education. By taking partial responsibility for the market of future workers, we can make a valuable contribution to the level of student's knowledge and skills, and help them develop. Whether they become mechanics or follow another automotive career path, each of their choices will be a success for us because we have fulfilled our role - we have helped them become better people," says Armands Umbraško, leader and coordinator of the Young Car Mechanic project.