Opinion: Work together, prepare for change and we’ll get through this

I’m normally pretty good anticipating problems.

Graham Stoakes: Industry author, lecturer and GW columnist.

This probably comes from working in a service industry where we are expected to predict the future on a daily basis, while giving customers advice on how to maintain their vehicles.

Be it routine maintenance or MOT testing, it is the advisories that show we are always looking ahead.

Although a global pandemic has always been a potential threat, I don’t think that many of us could have seen the effect that lockdown would have on our daily lives until we experienced it for ourselves.

The automotive industry has such a diverse set of job roles and routes that rely heavily on one another, and disruption in any link of the chain will have consequences which permeate throughout.

The need to keep the industry “ticking-over”, while following precautions and rules designed to reduce the spread of infection and save lives, is a fine balancing act.

Long-term knock-on effects

Unfortunately, as with many trades, the necessary hardships enforced now will have long-term knock-on effects that will echo throughout our industry for many years to come.

One area which might be overlooked is the inevitable contraction of skills caused by an interruption to training.

This is true for both trainees and apprenticeships, but also for those experienced technicians who strive to improve their knowledge and understanding, maintaining legal compliance and industrial competence.

The old adage ‘if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’, accurately sums up what happens to people’s skills, and sometimes motivation, when the opportunity to progress is interrupted.

Automotive students

Spare a thought for automotive students who are also finding it difficult at this challenging time, as well as the effect lockdown will have on their futures.

At this time of year, many are preparing to progress to the next level of their education, while others will be leaving to enter the world of full-time work.

Without the benefits of having completed their full programme of study, this will disadvantage their abilities and prospects.

As a college lecturer, moving to remote teaching has been a challenge beyond that which I could’ve imagined.

Delivering a vocational subject to trainees and apprentices via indirect contact over the internet has serious drawbacks when it comes to the interaction required for engagement and motivation.

You don’t get the immediate feedback, verbally or via body language which allows you to adapt your teaching approach to help differentiate for an individual’s particular learning needs and understanding.

There are many providers of learning materials and resources that have stepped up to help maintain the continuity of education for trainees and apprentices, and I would personally like to thank organisations such as the IMI, City & Guilds, Electude and many others for their support during these unprecedented circumstances.

Although training resources may lessen the impact on learning, as an author of college textbooks, I know that knowledge delivery can only take you so far.

Practical experience

It’s a practical industry and automotive learning also needs to be a physical experience.

Without the necessary blend of knowledge and a hands-on approach, vital skills may not be available.

For example, how many people would be happy to have an operation conducted by a surgeon who gained their qualification through a correspondence course, and has no practical experience.

Several years ago, I was asked by my publisher, what was the difference between a skill and competence.

After some thought, I came to the conclusion that you can teach a skill, but competence must be learned and only comes with experience.

Training is a partnership between the instructor and the trainee; I can teach someone, however I cannot make them learn, and motivation to participate remotely can be difficult.

Therefore as mentioned earlier, there needs to be a balanced blend of training in both knowledge and skills which can be put into practice, and with repetition, will eventually lead to experience and competency.

Automotive education is a tactile enterprise, and while my workload has increased considerably, trying to adapt my teaching to remote access, there is no substitute for hands-on face-to-face.

So what are the potential effects and outcomes when we eventually begin to emerge from the current necessary restrictions?

Inevitable casualties

Sadly there will be the inevitable casualties of necessary economies; some organisations will fold and individuals lose their jobs.

Although many have managed to remain open, with some even seeing an increase of work during lockdown, there is definitely the potential for an extra upsurge in business as the country returns to work.

With reduced public transport use or availability, many more individuals are going to be reliant on their cars.

Lack of maintenance and the potential negative effects of the MOT extension scheme are likely to push some garages to their limits.

This may mean extra skilled staff will be required.

Electric vehicles

The full shutdown and environmental impacts may prompt local authorities to push forward with plans to introduce low emission zones and increase the electric vehicle network.

This could shift the direction and emphasis of our industry, requiring an up-skilling of the current workforce to meet safety standards and associated legislation.

Although we are all very busy, it is important not to neglect training, but also make allowances for those progressing through their education during these difficult times.

The interruption to learning will mean that there are likely to be gaps in trainees skills and knowledge for some time to come, and they will need support on their journey to competence.

Also, ongoing training for everyone involved in the maintenance and repair of vehicles is vital to remain current, legal and mentally stimulated; remember training doesn’t cost, it pays.

As it turns out, my fortune-telling abilities are limited, and predicting what will come next is actually impossible.

But working together, supporting one another through difficult times and making allowances for problems caused by the pandemic will hopefully bring out the best in all of us.

Share your comments below.

Graham Stoakes

With a long history working in an independent garage, Graham now teaches motor vehicle technology at Chichester College.

He’s a renowned author too, with ten books and three CD ROMS to his name so far, covering a range of vehicle technology topics from levels one to four.

To find out more about Graham Stoakes and his automotive books, visit his website.

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