Why don’t young people want to work in the auto industry?

People working on car

What are young people looking for in a career and how can we encourage them into the automotive industry?

Attracting young people to work in automotive is one of the biggest challenges confronting our industry.

According to Capricorn’s annual survey of Members, State of the Nation, 37% of workshop owners think young people just don’t want to work in our industry. In terms of the scale of challenges we face, it was third behind only the shortage of qualified staff and changing technology. Seventeen per cent of Members also said finding good apprentices was something they struggled with in their own business.

But why don’t young people want to become mechanics, auto-electricians and panelbeaters? And what can we do to change that? State of the Nation also provided some clues.

We need to provide the kinds of workplaces young people want to work in

Young people’s expectations from their work environment, their employer, and the kinds of work they will do have evolved in the decades since many of us got our start.

According to analysts at Gallup (the famous polling company), millennials and gen z employees are looking for:

  • An organisation that cares about their wellbeing
  • Ethical leadership
  • An organisation that’s diverse and inclusive of all people
  • Leadership that is open and transparent.

While the top two points are things Gallup found gen x and baby boomers also wanted from employers, the latter two are new. (Interestingly, they replace “an organisation’s financial stability” on the gen x and baby boomer list).

We’ve got a whole list of ways you can create the kind of workplace that’s attractive to young people over on this CapHub article.

We need to bust myths and combat stigma about careers in our industry

There are also still plenty of unhelpful myths and perceptions about what a career in the automotive industry might be and who it suits.

These statistics are from a 2006 study by the University of Surrey, so it’s a little old now, but it demonstrates the point—and the persistence of these preconceived ideas. Given a series of statements about what they thought the most off-putting aspects of being a car mechanic were, young people told the study:

  • The job involves working in a dirty or messy environment (63% agreed)
  • The job offers good chances of advancement and promotion (just 5% agreed)
  • The job offers the chance to earn a lot of money (just 5% agreed)
  • It’s a job people look up to and respect (just 12% agreed)
  • The job needs specialised skills or abilities (just 22% agreed)
  • The job is fun (just 7% agreed).

While it’s true, workshops can be dirty places, there’s clearly a big disconnect between reality and perception. Anyone working in the industry, for example, can tell you just how much specialist technical skill is needed in your average workshop these days. When the same study asked actual car mechanics how they felt about their jobs, 29% said it was a respected profession, 35% said salaries were good, and 33% said it was fun.

We need to provide more opportunities for young people

Although some Members say they’re struggling to find good apprentices, providing opportunities for those who want apprenticeships is absolutely vital to our industry’s longevity—they’re our only pipeline of talent.

Three out of five Members said they’d been approached by someone looking for an apprenticeship. Those who haven’t taken one on said their business was too small, they didn’t have the time, they didn’t need more staff at the time, or there was too much training involved.

But apprenticeship opportunities only exist if we create them. Without them, young people can’t join our industry. Fortunately, there are a range of incentives available to help you create those opportunities.

We need to provide more opportunities for young women

The University of Surrey study was actually looking into the reasons some jobs are considered “male jobs” and some are considered “female jobs”—and it made some interesting findings that are relevant to our industry.

While only 50% of boys said being a car mechanic was “macho”, “74% of girls thought the same. While 93% of girls said the dirty environment was off-putting, 56% said the “macho” nature of the job was an issue for them.

The report recommended finding ways to encourage more young people to take non-traditional (gendered) routes in their working lives, as this would eventually break down gender segregation and therefore stereotypes.

State of the Nation found 95% of Members employed no women as qualified mechanics, fitters or electricians, and 92% had no female apprentices. There’s a great opportunity to change that, and positively change our workplace dynamics, by providing more apprenticeships for young women excited by a career in automotive.

We need to talk up our industry, instead of talking it down

Could our perception of our own industry and our jobs be part of the problem? While we’re generally a positive bunch, State of the Nation found several key areas where it seems we like to talk ourselves down.

  • Asked for their advice to their younger selves, nine per cent of Members said “don’t start an automotive business”.
  • Asked how attractive automotive apprenticeships were compared to other industries, 53% said less or a lot less; 43% said about the same.
  • When asked if they felt customers didn’t trust mechanics, 31% (of Australian Members) agreed.

We need to focus, and promote, the positives instead: making customers happy, having fun fixing problems, getting to work with cars, meeting new people every day and the diversity of the work involved.

We need to inspire young people and provide role models

Once we’ve got the message right, we need the right messengers out there selling it.

If the kids are on a social media platform these days, for example, then we need youthful, passionate and effective advocates for careers in automotive out there on those social media platforms, creating engaging content.

But you don’t need to be a social media star. We can all be an ambassador for our industry, and a role model to the young people coming into it. It’s up to all of us to find ways to step up and encourage the next generation—because we all know just how rewarding a career in automotive can be.

Want to know more?

Download the full State of the Nation Report 2021.

This article was published 24/01/2022 and the content is current as at the date of publication.