Ownership is key

Day two of the IBIS Global Summit 2018 opened with a debate around the skills gap with the panel agreeing much of it was down to ownership of the issue.

The panel, comprising Jim Muse, sales director, North America and director, global refinish accounts, Axalta; John Van Alstyne, CEO and president of I-CAR; and Stuart Sandell, director, sales replacement division, Enterprise Rent-A-Car Europe, Enterprise Rent-A-Car discussed the industry’s skills issue, relaying ideas and perspectives from a corporate and grassroots level.

Stuart suggested that the skills shortage is not just an industry specific issue but industries across the world are suffering. He also pointed at how different European markets are developing at a different rate and therefore certain skills issues are more evident in some areas than others.

Jim described how in general the workforce within the industry was ageing and took a ‘show of hands’ survey of the ‘baby boomers’ (those born between 1945 and 1965) amongst the IBIS audience and quipped, ‘we are the problem’. However, Jim explained, ‘As we move and our industry moves, so our image does too.’

John spoke of I-CAR’s role in tackling the skills issue and suggested from his perspective that often within the developing markets the skills gap is even wider. Interestingly he highlighted how the average technician age in the US is 41, against the average age of the workforce in the country being a little over 42.

Discussing the image of the industry, Stuart suggested that UK wise there is little in terms of ‘aspirational’ figures to inspire the next generation within the industry and referenced TV drama series as portraying a very outdated image of the sector.

Exploring what more can be done to raise the profile of the sector, John explained, ‘We are looking to engage the community with the educational/training schools to raise the bar. However, the challenge is we have a bit of a fragmented message due to the nature of the sector and as an industry we don’t have a great deal of scale. I think there is an opportunity there.’

Stuart explained how the larger corporate organisations have a responsibility to promote the industry as a whole, and said, ‘We need to get the right people into this industry because we, as a business, need the capabilities.’

Jim suggested that mentoring is a very important aspect in people development. Something Stuart agreed with, suggesting that he has benefitted from numerous mentors over the years. Stuart said, ‘What is the incentive for technicians to become mentors? Maybe their performance should be managed based on the performance of those around them?’ On the same subject, John spoke of how staff turnover is a ‘big management challenge’ and suggested turnover rates within the industry can vary anywhere between 10%-50%.

Jim highlighted how employee engagement, and gauging it, is a vital aspect to Axalta’s human resource policy. Discussing the most recent survey, Jim said, ‘We were very pleased overall and the survey provided us with great insight into the business.’ Stuart agreed that employee engagement surveys were highly beneficial in order to make positive changes internally but also highlighted the difficulty in measuring a generic industry engagement level. ‘How does an industry body take the pulse of the industry? Internally it’s much easier to gauge engagement,’ said Stuart.

Discussing how the industry becomes more attractive across the board, Jim suggested a unified body could be of benefit to create an educational programme specific to the industry. Stuart agreed but also highlighted how Enterprise recruits 10,000 business graduates a year and highlighted how talent is already available but it is more a case of ‘targeting’ the right areas.

In wrapping up, Jim suggested companies need to have their own strategy when it comes to developing people; Stuart suggested overcoming the skills gap is about ownership but also collaboration – ‘smaller organisations will find it harder to own the issue’; and John raised two issues: firstly, there needs to be a value proposition for someone to join your organisation and, secondly, if the industry could plug the retention issue that it would solve a number of problems.

The IBIS Global Summit 2018 is partnered by 3M, AkzoNobel, Audatex, Axalta, Enterprise Rent A Car, Fix Auto and Symach.