The automotive industry must attract a new breed of worker

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The automotive sector needs digitally and technically skilled workers, perhaps from other industries

The UK automotive sector turned over £71.6 billion in 2015 and invests 12% of the country’s total research and development spend, according to The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). It is a thriving industry that is innovative and forward-focused, and could be on the cusp of a great technological leap via the wide-scale adoption of digitisation across its manufacturing and retail functions.

But to fully realise its potential in the coming decades I believe the sector needs to start attracting a new breed of worker. It should target people that may not have previously considered a career in the automotive sector, but who possess the range of transferable technology and people skills the sector will be seeking in the years ahead.

Over the past few years automotive manufacturing productivity performance and retail sales have continued to improve, culminating in 2016 with record registrations for 2.7 million new cars. This boom has created the optimism and capital for widespread investment in modernisation and therefore opportunities across a range of jobs.

These opportunities will continue to be generated as the industry kicks off an exciting transition to a digital future. According to SMMT fully embracing digitisation across the sector could lead to a £74 billion boost to the industry over the next 20 years. New technologies to aid manufacturing processes and the increased use of data visualisation to improve production capabilities and product development are set to help take the sector to the next level; one where time saving, cost reduction and swift responses to consumer demand will strengthen it even further.

In the sales environment technology gives customers instant mobile access to a wealth of information on products, giving them confidence to make an informed purchase. In addition, with the cars themselves increasingly packed with tech features and customers focusing on how these fit with their lifestyle, we need employees who understand technology and how it fits into modern life.

However, to fulfil the sector’s potential – from manufacturing to retail – we need to attract technically literate individuals to the industry in greater numbers. We can do this by demonstrating that ambitious people can realise their career aspirations in a sector they had perhaps not previously considered.

To attract the levels of talent required to support the sector as massive technologically-driven change takes place, it is vital that awareness of the technology opportunities within it are raised. An interest in cars is certainly not a requirement of the role, but a passion for technology may well be.

Reaching out to those in other sectors by offering different models of working and pay is one of our responses to the challenge. We are already having success at this with employees such as Heather Whittaker who switched from a career in retail to join our company. So why shouldn’t automotive target technology workers as well?

While the UK’s car manufacturing base will require increased numbers of technicians, engineers, designers and production staff to implement the digital revolution, the retail side also offers tangible examples of where staff from other sectors with transferrable skills can access a rewarding and progressive career, as well as being a great place to start.

Companies such as ours are seeking technically-skilled and IT-savvy future colleagues both to work to support the cars we sell, and to ensure our business operations are effective and efficient. Back office functions, customer service and marketing, as well as many other departments, will increasingly rely upon the ability to grasp technology. And these people will have wide-ranging career opportunities and an employment journey that could lead to any number of well-remunerated, flexible and inspiring role destinations.

Clare Martin is group HR director at Jardine Motors Group

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