Things are the same all over
Ken Newton is a founder and past CEO of VASA, a trade association in Australia. Started in 1993, VASA’s mission is to improve training standards and to represent the automotive service industry in legislative activities. They have been a significant force as a representative of the aftermarket service industry at the highest levels of Australia’s government. VASA has also worked closely with MACS on issues that affect us all. For years we’ve counted on Ken to keep us informed about what’s happening ‘down under,.’ but he recently announced a well-earned retirement so he can spend more time with his ‘mistress,’ a 24-foot boat named Helena. We will miss his help, his humor and his powerful insight. Below is Ken’s next-to-last column, Under the Southern Cross, which has appeared in MACS ACtion magazine since 2005.
They Don’t Tinker With Cars Anymore
It is a source of great amusement down here when people find out that I know absolutely nothing about cars. I wouldn’t know a con rod from a TX valve.
But back when I was a pimply teenager, you were regarded as, well, odd, if you didn’t spend every Saturday peering into the engine of an Austin A40, or a Hillman, or a Morris. Before the iconic Holden took hold, the streets of Australia were full of English cars.
Those of you who are old enough will remember that there was a time when you didn’t need to know a lot about cars to be able to tinker with them. Cars were originally mechanical things, and as long as you labeled the nuts and bolts, you could replace a diff, or king pins, or any number of things, without having to call in a highly expensive mechanic. Air conditioning? What was that? You just opened a window and you were air conditioned.
As a teenager and a young man about town, you were capable of keeping an old claptrap on the road. Playing with cars was a hobby, simply because you could.
And my point is? Kids don’t do this any more. The days of boys wanting to tinker under the bonnet are gone. And when kids don’t do this any more, you have a generation growing up with no real interest in cars at all. Buying a car these days is like buying a package of frozen peas at the supermarket. We don’t know where they come from, we don’t know how they work or how they got in the packet. As long as it goes when you turn the key, what else is there to know?
A study has just been released in Australia which explains a lot of things about the state of the automotive industry. One of the major findings was that because kids don’t tinker with cars any more, they are less likely to consider a career in the auto industry.
Auto Skills Australia is a relatively new body charged with trying to modernize the auto curriculum to entice more young people into the automotive repair industry. They have produced an eye-opener of a report, called “The Environmental Scan 2013,” in which they forecast that the repair industry is in for interesting times ahead. There’s good news and there’s bad news.
The bad news – workshops will close at an accelerating rate as the experienced mechanical and technical workforce ages and replacement staff will become very difficult to find.
And the good news – as the number of workshops and skilled technicians fall, the opportunities for those who hang in there and maintain their skill levels will be astounding and profitable, with a very real possibility that in the near future, people will be waiting in long queues to have their vehicles repaired or serviced.
The drop-out rate of apprentices in automotive training is among the worst of any trade and it is alarming educators. There are even signs in Australia and the US that the social media behemoth is pushing young people away from driving altogether. Why drive to work when you can stay socially connected sitting on the bus or train?
The impact of this and many other trends will profoundly affect the way aftermarket workshops cope with the future. Older people with skills acquired from years on the tools will become precious to the industry very shortly, if not already. As employers realize this, they will use whatever incentives they can to keep people in the workforce.
Turning young people off working in the car trade are the negative perceptions concerning the industry as being dirty, low-paid work. As the Scan report points out, this in fact is not the case. Modern automotive workshops are clean and have sophisticated equipment to diagnose and service modern vehicles. Students today are required to have maths, IT and science skills in order to be able to conduct vehicle diagnostics and work with such technology.
Considering that I failed miserably in maths 1 in primary school, it’s a good thing that I learnt how to type, because I would never have made it as a vehicle technician.
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