Dean Lander (Head of Repair Sector Services for Thatcham Research) writes in his capacity as AutoRaise Trustee
Understanding the trends and mindsets that drive an industry is an important insight for any business plan. The bodyshop sector has several key insight-gathering opportunities throughout the year, not least the many events and conferences we would normally attend.With these occasions currently curtailed by Coronavirus we are fortunate to have a wide range of data-led reports at our fingertips. One of these is the annual State of the Industry Survey conducted by the ABP Club which has been conducted by the ABP Club every year for the last 10 years.
I was extremely intrigued and somewhat concerned when I first read the findings of this year's research. In particular, page 15 of the report which details the sector's appetite for apprenticeships.
On the face of it the results suggest industry engagement in apprenticeships is declining. But is this the true picture? Has the skills crisis gone away as a result of Covid-19 or is the pandemic shaking confidence to the extent that building a talent pipeline for the future is no longer at the front of people's minds?
The real story behind the results...As both the Head of Thatcham Research Automotive Academy and a Trustee for AutoRaise, I believed the stark insight being presented by the data was too shocking and simplistic to be the whole story. Thankfully David Cresswell, Chairman of ABP, was of a similar mindset and agreed to support with a deeper dive into the survey responses.
He states: "Our survey is unbiased and we report simply on the responses to the questions asked without any adjustment. However, our industry is not monotone; it has many facets, and when I was asked to look deeper into the types of business responding I was eager to support."
ABP conducted a new analysis of the responses to identify trends. The team considered more closely the types of businesses that answered the survey, while retaining the confidence of individual respondents.
The first point to admit is that there are clearly fewer employers with apprentices today than there were in 2019. The current abhorrent circumstances we find ourselves in has had a catastrophic impact on new apprentice starts in 2020. This bears out Education and Skills Funding Agency data: most businesses which employ apprentices do so in the months leading up to September. With these months being wiped out or spent rebuilding from the effects of the first lockdown, we have seen a 60% reduction in apprentices starts in the sector already this year.
The Covid-19 crisis has shaken confidence. Business has slowed, volumes are low and many of our industry's skilled technicians were furloughed. Is it therefore surprising that there is a 20% reduction in employers currently hiring apprentices compared to 2019's survey results?
I certainly think not. I'd wager that as some apprentices completed their journey early in 2020 employers decided not to on-board new apprentices. This is understandable when financial uncertainty, low business confidence and shifting recovery timeframes are taken into account.
A key cog in any business
But when you look behind the headline, 94% of the respondents that run four or more sites say they currently employ apprentices. This drops to 77% of those with two or three sites and 55% for single-site operators. It's clear medium to large groups are still very much engaged with and see the value in having an apprenticeship programme. These firms are most likely to recruit multiple apprentices. But the data analysis also shows smaller businesses may have less confidence in their future, and therefore a weaker appetite to invest in apprentices.
Dave Sargeant, Managing Director of Gemini and Chairman of AutoRaise, agrees: "With the onset of Covid-19 all training providers and colleges were closed and unable to complete the programme. This delayed apprentices finishing their studies and gaining their qualifications.
"Keeping young people safe, motivated and feeling secure has never been more important than now, while we are in this holding pattern. We need to encourage and support them [with the message] that the future is still theirs to be had, we will get through this stormy time, and we need them more than ever. Apprentices were the first staff to go back to Gemini after lockdown. They are a fundamental cog in the business, and we couldn't be without them."
Apprentice engagement still high
This year's survey featured an interesting new question: do you expect to take on new apprentices in the next 12 months? The results show only 33% say they would, with 30% of respondents being unsure.
On its own the first number would be worrying. However, when you look deeper the picture is not as bleak as suggested.
Only 31% of businesses that currently employ apprentices have no plans to recruit new ones within the next 12 months. As apprenticeship programmes typically run for three years this should not be seen as a surprise or negative. If the timeframe in the question was 'the next 36 months', and resulted in the same response, that would potentially be a cause for concern.
In addition, the vast majority of negative answers were from single, or dual-site, operators where apprentice numbers would have been limited to one or two per business. Businesses that do not currently employ apprentices are also included in the total. The largest proportion of positive responses came again from larger businesses. In fact, of all respondents with four or more sites, and where the business doesn't currently employ apprentices, 50% are considering taking on apprentices within the next 12 months.
Based on this deeper data analysis the story is far more positive overall. Today, 67% of respondents have one or more apprentices in their business. A third have ambitions to increase the number of apprentices on programme, or at the very least replace any that go on to graduate within the next 12 months. An additional 30% may choose to engage in some way within the next year. This shows, based on the statistics, that more than two thirds of our industry are engaged with apprentices.
So the survey's initial findings were right, apprentice numbers are down and confidence has been hit. But in the detail there is clear optimism and commitment that apprentice numbers will once again grow and the sector will reaffirm its pledge to develop a sustainable workforce for the future.
Improving the apprenticeship experience
Perhaps the most concerning insight within the survey was that 45% of respondents are deterred from recruiting apprentices due to a previous poor experience. This proportion is on the rise and AutoRaise want to help bring it back down. Bob Linwood, CEO of AutoRaise asks: "How can AutoRaise help reverse this trend? We are seeking insight from the survey's respondents as to what these experiences have been. We would like to understand what has put them off future apprenticeships and what AutoRaise can do to ensure bad experiences are avoided in the future. With so many success stories across our industry, AutoRaise can act as the conduit to share best practice. We want to develop industry-wide retention schemes to ensure all employers get the most out of having apprentices on board."
If you have any experiences to share or suggestions about how AutoRaise can support you or other employers please contact AutoRaise at [email protected]