The biggest challenges facing workshops (especially larger ones)

The biggest challenges facing workshops

Struggling to find and retain qualified staff? You’re not alone — especially if you run a larger workshop. Here’s what you need to know.

When Capricorn asked large workshop owners what the biggest challenge facing the automotive industry today was, one answer came back loud and clear: the lack of qualified staff.

 Fifty-nine per cent of large workshop owners (those with five or more staff) told our State of the Nation Report 2020  that finding good people was their top worry. Their second biggest concern, on 46%, was attracting young people to the industry.finding good people was their top worry. Their second biggest concern, on 46%, was attracting young people to the industry.

 So, what are owners of large workshops actually experiencing? And what can we as an industry do about it?

 Let’s hear from a workshop owner first. 

The disconnect between effort and reward

Glenn Matthew co-owns Autoclinic in Heidelberg, Victoria. He’s been in business there for 33 years. He says one of the problems is the trade has changed and it’s just not as attractive as it used to be.

 “It’s hard to get guys into the trade because everyone wants to sit in a nice, warm office,” he said. “It’s a hard trade; there’s a lot of thinking. You have to be switched-on. There’s a lot of reading you have to do now, and people just don’t want to put in the effort when you compare it with the rewards that you’re getting — the salary and so on.

 “Of course, we can’t pay more because we have got to keep labour rates down so we can compete with the dealerships on price.”

 Mr Matthew and his business partner previously owned two workshops but sold one because it was too hard to find qualified staff. He said he’d even paid for one technician to move down from north Queensland, only to find “he was useless”.

 “It’s hard to find somebody who’s got the passion to work in this industry, and you’ve got to have a passion for it,” he said.

 Mr Matthew said he is now considering bringing in qualified technicians from Germany, who he hoped might “jump at the chance” to live and work in Australia. 

A quick look at pay rates

 Let’s take a quick look at pay rates, which Mr Matthew said he believes are a disincentive to people working in our industry.

 Here’s what State of the Nation found.


Average hourly pay rate

Less than 5 years’ experience

More than 5 years’ experience

Mechanical technicians






Panel beaters/spray painters




Part of the problem, clearly, is the amount we pay our most experienced people isn’t really all that much more than we pay our junior staff. So, where is the incentive to stay?

 Industry pay rates are a topic Capricorn Chief Executive Officer of Automotive, Brad Gannon, explores more fully in this article. Mr Gannon makes the case that with so much competition in the labour market, it is important that “our best people are paid sufficiently and see a long-term future in the industry for themselves and their families”. He also explores how this can be achieved. 

Employing and retaining apprentices

Pay rates also affect the industry’s ability to attract and retain apprentices. 

State of the Nation found 34% of workshops currently employ at least one apprentice. What are the top reasons for doing so? 

  • 74% said to train the next generation
  • 49% said to pass on skills
  • 13% said apprentices cost less to employ.

 And the top reasons for not taking on an apprentice? 

  • 61% said their business was too small
  • 22% said they didn’t have time
  • 11% said too much work was involved in training
  • 10% said apprentices were not reliable
  • 6% said they couldn’t seem to find one.

 Mr Matthew said it is a common experience for apprentices to get to their second year and “chuck it in and go and become an electrician or a plumber, because they know they’re going to get better money”.

 He said that leaves workshops bearing the expense of a year or two of training, without the benefits that come later in an apprenticeship, when the young person is more skilled.

 A willingness to employ apprentices, and to help them stick at it, is vital to the future of our industry and solving the shortage of qualified staff in the long term.

 Perhaps it’s time for a bigger conversation around both apprenticeships and pay rates if we want to secure the future of our workshops — whether our businesses are large or small. 

A top tip for retaining qualified staff

 Finally, what’s Mr Matthew’s top tip for retaining qualified staff? It’s all about giving them a reason to stick around.

 “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, because I’m 60,” he said. “In another couple of years, I’m done. I’m going to sell this business to one of the mechanics here who’s been with me for 18 years. 

“I want to see him do well, but we talk about it all the time: how are we going to find staff?”

 You can read the full State of the Nation Report 2020 here.

This article was published 26/10/2020 and the content is current as at the date of publication.