Tuesday, 29 August 2017 14:56

Grease monkeys are becoming extinct. Enter the era of the tech-heads.

Employers say they failed to find enough mechanics to fill more than half of the jobs available in the automotive industry last year.

Disinterest from teens with a passion for smartphones was a key reason behind a forecast national shortfall of 35,000 auto trades workers industry-wide by the end of this financial year.

Motor Trades Association of Australia (MTAA) chief executive Richard Dudley said young adults were leaving it until later to get their driver’s licence – if they got it at all – as smartphones, social media and other technology enabled them to socialise without leaving the house.

And the car is no longer the symbol of freedom it used to be.

“The propensity to jump in your car and go and see friends is not as prominent as it once was,” Mr Dudley said. “If they are interested in getting their first car, the most important thing to them is smartphone connectivity and that technology is available.”

A new report shows fewer young people are tinkering with cars in their backyard, so they do not develop an interest in the industry by working on their own vehicle.

And their ideas of what it takes to maintain a car is lost in the past, he says.

Changed industry

“There’s still this perception that being a motor mechanic, being a vehicle motorbody repairer, automotive electrician, specialist brake person are the sort of ‘dirty’ or ‘grease-monkey’ type jobs and they are very far from that these days,” Mr Dudley says.

“They are vastly different from even 10 years ago. It should be a highly attractive career choice because of these changing elements to these jobs.”

Employment Department figures show a national shortage of auto electricians and motor mechanics for the past decade.

Last year, more than a third of employers did not get any suitable applicants for their job vacancies whatsoever and more than half (52 per cent) of all vacancies were not filled.

New South Wales last year experienced the biggest difficulties, with the proportion of vacancies filled falling from 59 per cent in 2015 to 28 per cent in 2016.

The number of suitable applicants for each vacancy in New South Wales fell from 1.2 to 0.4 in the same period.

Tasmania (0.7), South Australia (0.9) and Victoria (0.9) all on average had less than one suitable applicant for each vacancy.

Hi-tech career

The MTAA is urging teens who are tech savvy to take another look at what the mechanic job entails and consider fixing cars as a career.

Its 2017, Directions in Australia’s Automotive Industry report, produced by the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC), identified the shortage of motor mechanics as “critical”.

Today’s vehicles are a far cry from those produced even a decade ago, with mechanics doing diagnostics and fault fixes for computerised equipment in vehicles – ranging from rain sensors to electronic stability control.

Institute of Automotive Mechanical Engineers (IAME) chief executive Peter Blanshard said grease was not even required by most new passenger cars manufactured today.

“The grease and oil change is just about dead. Grease points have gone away,” he said.

“100 per cent (technology) is where we are going. To run the cars of the future, we’re going to be moving to hybrid and electric vehicles.

“Mums and dads refer to the trade as grease monkeys – we should refer to ourselves as almost geeks.”

Diagnostic skils

Mr Blanshard said diagnostic technicians were more likely to fix cars using computers than with tools, by updating computer modules for everything from power steering to airconditioning.

“We do need to attract a different workforce, we would need to attract boys and girls from high school that are computer literate, that understand programming,” Mr Blanshard said.

The Employment Department data shows the number of job vacancies for automotive trades workers increased by 14 per cent between 2015 and 2016.

Meanwhile, the number of vehicles being sold is increasing – up 2 per cent in 2016 on the previous year, and 16 per cent higher than in 2011 – ensuring there is steady work.

Camden Valley Holden service manager Rocco Scuteri said 15 years ago he would typically interview about 30 school leavers at the end of each year for an apprenticeship job but today “struggled to get a couple” to apply.

“A lot of them aren’t interested in the trade, they’ve had no background experience at all – they haven’t been with cars,” he said.

“If you’re computer-savvy, it’d be a big help, but there’s still a lot of hands-on work too.

“It’s a dying trade but it’s a good trade and people need to realise that.”

Josh Ellacott, 25, studied his light automotive technician qualification through TAFE NSW while completing his apprenticeship at Camden Valley Holden, where he is now workshop foreman.

His interest in becoming a mechanic was because of his exposure to cars as a child, as his parents were involved in officiating motor racing, but he preferred to help crews with the race cars.

He said there was still hands-on work involved in the job but increasing electronics created an increasing mental challenge in the job.

“It’s more technical, more computers – it’s getting to the stage now where you have to have some sort of auto electrical skill to work out some of the problems,” he said.

Fast track your automotive career

Contact the MTA WA Automotive Insitute of Technology on 9233 9800 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information on automotive apprenticeship and training.

Source: www.news.com.au, 26 August 2017

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