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Motor repair trades are crying out for skilled workers: what's the solution?

03/11/2017

Daryl Roycroft

Motor Claims Manager, AA Insurance

Like some New Zealand industries at the moment, motor repair trades are having a tough time finding skilled workers.

It wasn’t like this when I was starting out. I remember searching for my first job. I’d helped my father do up the odd car, paint them and sell them so I knew fixing cars was part of my future.

Back then, searching for a job meant sending out a handwritten letter of interest (in the mail) to every panel beater in the neighbourhood. Then a week later I’d follow up by driving around every shop, asking if they had received my letter, and trying to convince them they needed to employ me.

After about 20 ’no thank yous’, one repairer said they didn’t have a job, but if I turned up the following week they’d let me work without pay just to get experience. With the confidence of an out-of-work 17-year-old I figured after a week they wouldn’t be able to turn me away.  Fortunately, I was right and they kept me on (with pay) for the next five years. Since then, I’ve taken my skills into another area of the industry, as Motor Claims Manager at AA Insurance.

Now, 30 years on from my first job, where does the industry find keen, young people to train in the panel beating and car painting trades? With most kids these days encouraged to go to university or take on an apprenticeship in the building trades, it has left a huge apprenticeship gap in the motor repair trades. Anyone keen enough to go door knocking now would have no trouble being offered a job.

With today’s modern cars these are highly skilled jobs and we all put our lives in these people’s hands every day. Safety is a huge concern for AA Insurance – we’ve repaired about 45,000 cars through our Quality Repairer Network over the last 12 months – and we guarantee these repairs for the life of the vehicle so it’s important to us that these cars are repaired correctly.

When appointing a repairer to our network they’re measured on the equipment they have as well as the number of trained tradespeople they employ. But this is becoming much harder for some repair shops, with the shortage of skilled workers in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s population growth has also meant more cars on the road, which equates to more accidents and more demand for skilled tradespeople. In some parts of the country customers can wait up to four weeks to get their car booked into a repairer.

Several repairers in our network have been desperate to employ two or three qualified panel beaters and refinishers each, but have had no luck. That’s why some are seeking alternative ways of finding staff such as looking overseas, and often hiring from the Philippines and Sri Lanka to solve the immediate problem.

At AA Insurance, we wanted to focus on the future, to ensure a locally trained, sustainable, long-term solution would will be available in years to come, and support more young people into skilled roles.  

So, we’ve introduced a programme designed to support new apprentices within our Quality Repairer Network to become qualified collision repair or automotive refinishing technicians through industry training organisation, MITO. The apprenticeship programme is championed by Ray Davie, our Motor Assessing Manager, and his team who have all come from motor repair trade backgrounds. We’ll be teaming up with Wingers Suzuki and Automotive Colour.  

As I write this blog we’re currently seeking applications. Once accepted, apprentices will have their fees paid during training, receive a starter kit of tools, as well as on-going mentoring from our motor assessing team, who’ll provide plenty of support and a wealth of knowledge and experience.

So, why are we doing this? Well, as we rely on our network of repairers to help look after our customers and their cars, we have a responsibility to support the industry in maintaining a workforce with a high level of skills and expertise. We know this isn’t a quick win that will solve the skills shortage but the more attention we can bring to the industry the better it will be for everyone – the apprentices, the repairer trade as well as the safety of regular Kiwi drivers. 

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About AA Insurance

AA Insurance is an independently operated, New Zealand-based joint venture between the New Zealand Automobile Association (NZAA) and Suncorp Group. We have demonstrated trusted expertise in home, contents and car insurance in New Zealand since 1994. We underwrite our own policies and sell direct to New Zealanders. Our more than 700 staff look after nearly 375,000 customers with over 710,000 policies.

We proudly partner with Eden Park, support youth charity Blue Light, and have been consistently recognised by: Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Brands (since 2011), NZ Insurance Industry Awards (since 2012), IBM Kenexa Best Workplaces Survey (since 2008), Canstar Blue Most Satisfied Customers (2011-2016), and the Colmar Brunton Corporate Reputation Index (since 2015) that recognises New Zealand’s most successful companies.

AA Insurance has an A+ (Strong) Insurer Financial Strength Rating given by Standard and Poor’s (Australia) Pty Ltd. For further information visit aainsurance.co.nz.

For more information please contact:

Nicole Steven, Botica Butler Raudon Partners, (09) 303 3867, 021 025 31886 or email nicoles@botica.co.nz

Amanda Fifield, AA Insurance Limited, (09) 927 2085 or email Amanda_Fifield@aainsurance.co.nz

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