Automotive technicians in the retail, repair and services sector – including air conditioning specialists – enjoy better employment opportunities and more chance of a lifelong career than many university graduates, according to industry leader Geoff Gwilym.
Negative attitudes to the trades generally by secondary schools and governments, both state and federal, have led to a shortage of 7000 apprentices and qualified tradespeople in the Victorian automotive retail, service and repair (RSR) sector alone, said Mr Gwilym, who is executive director of the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC).
But there is currently still a strong demand for auto technicians and even the arrival of mechanically simpler electric vehicles is expected to drive up demand for air-conditioning technicians, in particular.
Mr Gwilym said that over the past 20 years, schools and governments have convinced parents and their children that the only real choice for school leavers was a university degree.
“As parents we have all been guilty of suggesting that they should go to uni, that they’ll be better off,” Mr Gwilym said during the VACC Industry Awards and Centenary Gala in Melbourne.
“Well, I’ll tell you now the employment outcomes for apprentices are higher than for university students because they are all employed. And it’s lifetime employment. Auto apprentices, when they finish their apprenticeships, are generally immediately employed.
“That’s not the case for university graduates,” he said.
Mr Gwilym said that, while service intervals on new vehicles were getting longer, the total Australian car parc was growing at a net 400,000 units a year and was currently at around 18 million vehicles.
“Those vehicles have got to be maintained, so the RSR sector is going nowhere in a hurry. It still employs 370,000 people, and comprises 79,000 businesses.
“Until we get mass electric vehicles that will, generally, require less mechanical intervention, you will still need 97,000 mechanics nationally to keep our vehicle fleet running.”
Even then, demand for air-conditioning technicians is expected to rise because battery-electric vehicles need to have cooling systems to regulate the temperature of their battery packs, which can shut down if the battery overheats.
In addition, with no engine heat to draw on, BEVs will increasingly employ reverse-cycle air-conditioning to regulate cabin temperatures as well as the drivetrain, ensuring continuing demand for air-con technicians.
Mr Gwilym said a 2017 survey of the Victorian RSR sector showed there were 7000 vacancies. This was despite there being 10 per cent youth unemployment in the state.
“We need to start telling kids to get a trade, get a career, get into a job that has got multiple opportunities at the end of it.
“I have been around the world talking to guys in trade jobs and they go from trades to management, to senior executive to owning their own businesses. Thousands and thousands of them, and our job is to tell that to young people; “Come into auto to start your future”.
“You don’t come into auto to do the same thing for 30 years. It’s the beginning of a journey.”