Motor trade struggles to recruit technicians as move to electric accelerates

Highly-trained staff being poached by other industries as the world of mechanics changes

A VW technician servicing a car at its Irish facility.

A VW technician servicing a car at its Irish facility.

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The motor trade in Ireland fears that the switch to electric cars this decade could be undermined by a lack of mechanics to service them.

Although electric cars are simpler at the point of power being transmitted to the road, they are vastly more complex in almost every other way, and the motor trade in Ireland claims that it is becoming difficult to recruit enough apprentices and trainees to fill the roles needed.

Robert Guy, director of group aftersales services for Volkswagen Group Ireland, where it is operating a large new €1 million training facility on the western fringes of Dublin, said: “We usually run at about 85 per cent of what we need, in terms of the number of technicians. That’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, and there is now a shortage of apprentices coming into the trade.”

The shortfall is about to become more serious, as the need for training is ramping up. While future mechanics and technicians won’t have to replace as many sparkplugs nor fix as many gearboxes (although they will have to deal with those on older models for years to come) they will have to contend with incredibly high-tech driver assistance systems, and software that requires three data cores, running at once, just to function.

According to Volkswagen Ireland’s head of training John Cunningham, “adjusting the tracking on a car used to be relatively simple, but now, when you do that, you have to show all of these high-end system that the tracking has been changed, otherwise things such as lane-keeping steering won’t be able to keep the car straight”.

‘Huge leap forward’

Guy likens working on a modern car to being “like on a Boeing 737” and the training is intense. It can take as long as 10 years to train to master technician standard, the equivalent of a third-level degree (and there is some rancour that such qualifications are not given their due recognition). It’s also easy to lose technicians to another industry. “We create ready-made technicians, and then the likes of Intel come in, and we lose people out the door in front of us,” says Cunningham.

A significant problem is the perception of the job among parents, say Cunningham and Guy, with worries that long-term careers in motor servicing aren’t going to be possible as the electric revolution accelerates.

“When people went from repairing propeller aircraft to repairing jet aircraft, even though the jets were way more reliable and simple, the number of engineers needed didn’t fall, it actually went up. In cars, the technology has taken a huge leap forward in a very short space of time, and maybe we just haven’t told the general public,” Cunningham said.