Bus operators reliant on freelance labour to meet demand

IRTE Skills Challenge 2021

Engineering skill shortages

Whilst a skills shortage of engineering based roles in the automotive sector is nothing new, an ageing workforce within the bus and coach sector and subsequent retirements are out-pacing the volume of new entrants. The recruitment of mechanics and technicians, in particular, continues to be a significant challenge for bus garages and workshops, according to the Motor Ombudsman.

In a survey, more than two thirds of businesses accredited by the Motor Ombudsman said their biggest issue was getting hold of qualified mechanics. As a result, many operators have resorted to recruiting competent technical personnel from outside the sector and then training them up to standard in-house.

Economic and political uncertainty has also played a part in the reluctance of businesses to take on new apprentices, which is also having a negative effect on the future skills pool.

According to an HR and recruitment specialist, Excel Resourcing, which works with bus operators across the UK, there’s very few companies that don’t require extra labour in the workshop. Most are therefore reliant on sourcing temporary contract labour to meet the demand. Excel believes there is a “major shift in the labour market with more experienced technicians choosing to freelance.”

The HR company says that there are huge concerns in the sector, as the existing workforce is ageing and there’s not enough new blood coming into the industry fast enough to replace it. “We have just over 250 technicians working with us and 80% of them are over the age of 45.”

According to multiple sources, the demand for PSV technicians and mechanics is at an all-time high, as commercial vehicle workshops are chasing to keep up with evolving new bus technology, as well as the need to keep on top of maintenance programmes for existing vehicles.

Earlier this year during National Apprenticeship Week, a number of the bus industry’s largest operators pledged their commitment to apprenticeship programmes, which was welcomed by Imperial Engineering, one of the leading distributors of OEM bus and coach parts.

John Dwight, Imperial Engineering’s Technical Sales Director, commented:

“Like many sectors of industry at the moment, the recruitment of skilled individuals is perhaps the biggest challenge. It’s very encouraging that there is widespread appreciation for the value of apprenticeships, who are critical to the future workforce but there is clearly a need to onboard people right now. Imperial recognises that the demand for multi-skilled engineers with diagnostic and electrical skills will only increase. For our part, we aim to continue our association with the IRTE Skills Challenge, which is an excellent shop window for highlighting the sector as a skilled profession.”