What makes a good automotive tradesperson?

There’s a massive range of skills and qualities that we could rattle on about in trying to answer that question! The mix of these things probably changes from workshop to workshop too, as our industry is a big and complex one – what trade, and are we talking cars or trucks, main dealer or independent, diagnostic technician or service technician?

When it all boils down though, we think there’s a key set of attributes (beyond mechanical competence) that come up time and again when good automotive tradespeople are pointed out by their managers, their customers or their peers. No matter what sort of role you have in the automotive industry, the following list is a golden set of traits we’ve collected over the years. We think any automotive tradesperson should be striving for these things if they want to be the best they can be in their trade, to really become industry professionals:

  • A positive attitude. This comes up time and again talking with workshop managers about their staff, with one of our favourites in Sydney often saying, “I can teach someone to fix cars well, but I can’t teach them to want to do it.” Being a motor mechanic – a good motor mechanic (or any other auto tradesperson) – is impossible if you’re not prepared to challenge yourself to do something with the job that keeps you motivated. It could be your raw passion for the vehicles, your hunger for more skills and knowledge, your love of team work, or hitting budgets – find what drives you and show it
  • Great communication skills. If you aspire to be a professional in your trade, the ability to communicate well with everyone around you is essential. There isn’t one way to show this either – being calm and understanding with a frustrated customer is a different communication skill to giving a service advisor a very clear and detailed set of notes on a complicated job they might have trouble understanding themselves. Either way, the key thing is to consider how well you will be understood, and how your message contributes to getting the best outcomes. Fixing cars or trucks is only part of the job
  • Attention to detail. This relates to obvious things like minimising mistakes, decreasing the time jobs take, or improving customer satisfaction results. However, there’s more to it than that. Really good tradespeople (as an example) know that changing engine oil is expected, but fixing that unreported dash rattle might not be, and when it’s fixed (and communicated!) that attention to detail will not go unnoticed
  • Master the commercial aspect of your job. It’s sometimes easy to let the money behind the industry impact your passion as a motor mechanic, but good tradespeople embrace the commercial realities of the trade and master them. This means using targets to inspire and show some leadership, understanding that when money is being make because targets are reached, it’s a recognition of effort and the value of your qualities as a good motor mechanic

The best thing for a lot of people to keep in mind here is that none of this requires you to be a master technician, to have decades of experience, or to specialise in one manufacturer or vehicle component. If you incorporate these points into the way you work in the automotive industry, you’ll be on your way to being a good motor mechanic no matter which stage of your career you’re at, even if you’re just setting off.

If you’d like to chat about your experience and finding the right role to push your career forward in the ways this blog discusses, we’re here to help: https://app-au.techsonthemove.com/job-seekers/register-with-us-candidate/


The strengths of a motor mechanic career

Choosing a career as a motor mechanic is making a decision to join a time-honoured trade that has constantly evolved for over a century. Many of us fall into it through a family connection, whilst others are driven by a passion for their vehicle of choice. Others love problem solving and thrive on seeing things put right through hard work and patience. No matter your path into the trade, in any given workshop you’ll likely find another motor mechanic whose career was kicked off by the same impulse.

However, once you’ve begun your core training as a motor mechanic, or perhaps after gaining qualification, many of us unfortunately lose track of this original motivation. The daily grind sinks in easily, and many technicians find themselves wondering if their choice of career was the right one.

We’re not here to say that the answer is always yes – everyone is different after all. However, some of the motor mechanics we speak with often overlook the range of skills and experiences their career has allowed them to develop, and they undervalue themselves and the years of dedication their careers have taken to build. If this sounds like it might be you, consider that aside from fixing cars, trucks or motorbikes, you might also have learned:

  • Strong communication skills. Have you worked through challenging situations with a disgruntled customer, or gone the extra mile to ensure a technical problem is properly and easily explained to another staff member or vehicle owner? If you’ve been a motor mechanic for awhile, we bet the answer is yes and most people weren’t doing that on the first day they grabbed a spanner. These skills don’t come easy
  • How to work under pressure and meet targets. Is there a more modern skill than that? Every motor mechanic knows what it’s like to have 15 minutes to finish a job that should take 60, or to chase an end-of-month target when it’s all on the line. There aren’t many valued professional roles that don’t require this sort of experience
  • The value of teamwork. This is another modern consideration, and certainly one that pretty much every job under the sun lists as a requirement. If you were to change your path and pursue a new career, wouldn’t the skills and experiences you’ve picked up working with others in the workshop to solve complex problems, meet shared targets and overcome challenges likely be important?
  • Leadership skills. This doesn’t mean you have to have been a foreman, or to have supervised an apprentice, or to have been getting paid the big bucks as a manager – far from it. Most motor mechanics at some stage have realised that when they do their jobs well (whatever that means in their workshop), people often pay attention and the way they get treated changes for the better. Leading by example, even if just to prove something to yourself, is an easy skill to master as a motor mechanic because you can do it all by yourself. The great thing is that every employer no matter the industry loves to see this in action

Even if you’re new to the trade or considering getting into it, don’t assume that you too will hit a wall where inspiration drops and you’ll be stuck in a rut. Look to things like the list above (and others of your own that could be added) as a reminder that a career as a motor mechanic is more than just fixing vehicles, and that these skills have value well beyond the confines of the role. Your motor mechanic career is what you make of it.

Perhaps you’re at a stage in your career that you’re looking for the right role to push your career forward, or to continue to develop these skills as you work toward goals you have set for yourself? If so, or if you’d like to talk more about what this could mean, we’d love to get in touch – it all starts here: https://app-au.techsonthemove.com/job-seekers/register-with-us-candidate/



How to stand out in a tough automotive market

If you work in the aftersales department of a commercial dealership, whether it be cars, trucks or motor bikes, chances are you know your managers are feeling the pinch at the moment. As a result, you might be too!

It’s no secret that the Australian automotive industry is not performing as well lately as it had been over the past half a dozen years or so, and this mostly comes down to large changes in the national economy that businesses can’t control. The bulk of this has been felt in sales, and to compensate for lower numbers of sold vehicles, there’s a greater focus now than ever before on extracting maximum value from aftersales. It’s a big adjustment for Aussie businesses to make, but one that other markets like the UK have long since figured out.

What does this mean for technicians now though? All around the country, we’re hearing of changes to shift structures, bonus programs, and overtime patterns, all normally aimed at increasing the workshop’s profitability. It’s easy sometimes as a technician to feel challenged by these changes, as not only does it often mean a shift in the way the job is done, but it can remove some earning potential too, and no one likes that!

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. If anything, whilst some dealers are doing it tough, now might be the ideal time to step up and push your career forward. Our clients around the country tell us that their most valued team members are those that are using this period of change as an opportunity to show everyone around them what they’re made of, and lead from the front.

They’re not just talking about foremen, master techs or their most experienced people either. It could be someone just out of their apprenticeship, going out of their way to push for efficiency targets or to inspire the technician next to them to smash a team goal; it could be a great tech that’s putting effort into better communication with their service advisors, delivering better customer service and boosting CSI outcomes. That’s the beauty of acting as a leader – anyone can do it, it tends to rub off, and the right people notice.

And, importantly, when the pressure on aftersales eases, or a manager needs to select a tech for promotion or training, who do you think they’ll be rewarding?

If you are seizing the chance to drive yourself forward and you’re looking for the next challenge, or you’re looking for a role where you can show what you’re made of, we’d love to chat about it: https://app-au.techsonthemove.com/job-seekers/register-with-us-candidate/


457 Visa cost blowout looms

AUSTRALIA’S automotive sector will bear the financial brunt of the federal government’s proposed higher visa charges just to fulfil a massive skills shortfall – estimated at around 35,000 positions – currently being experienced in trades including diesel and motorcycle mechanics, panel beaters and spray painters.

The proposed changes to the 457 Visa system, to be implemented next month, will raise the cost to dealers and repair businesses to $20,000 per worker from the current rate of $12,000.

The increase is due to the government’s plans to put the $8000 difference towards the national apprenticeship scheme, called the Skilling Australians Fund Levy (SAF).

Industry representatives, including the Australian Automotive Dealers Association (AADA) and the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC), do not have a problem with that allocation of funds but it comes at a bad time with other revenue and margin challenges looming across motor businesses this year.

AADA CEO David Blackhall indicated that the increase in costs will aggravate businesses struggling to maintain their income stream after they have already been shaken by a rash of intrusive charges and changes to their financial income in 2017.

Gavin Stocks from Techs On The Move, who works exclusively with the automotive industry and is an Australian registered migration agent, said automotive businesses aiming to employ migrants need to be aware of these changes.

He told GoAutoNews Premium that he thought that the industry bodies – the AADA, VACC and the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) – could have done more last year to lobby the government against the rising charges when the changes to the 457 program were mooted.

But Mr Blackhall said discussions started mid-2017 with the minister for immigration and border protection, Peter Dutton, with the aim of reducing the financial impact and improving the skills availability to the automotive industry.

Mr Blackhall said the minister was keen to meet industry representatives but the discussions were interrupted and could not be continued as Mr Dutton was embroiled in the refugee relocation issue. At the same time, the car industry bodies were heavily involved in changes to regulations from Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

He said it was regretful that the meetings with Mr Dutton could not take place. He added that the minister was primarily concerned with people abusing the 457 system which led to people overstaying the temporary visas.

“In addition to our direct representations to the federal government, we have also leveraged our relationship with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has been very active in Canberra in calling for these costs to be brought down,” Mr Blackhall said.

“While we are disappointed with the outcome of this particular policy, to say that we did not expend any effort in making our case to the government is wrong.

“We recognise that the government was primarily concerned with people abusing the 457 system and overstaying their temporary visas.

“Right now, according to the MTAA, there are about 35,000 jobs in the industry that are vacant.

“This is hard on dealers and repair businesses and the extra $8000 they will need to find to support a migrant visa applicant will not help.”

Mr Stocks told GoAutoNews Premium that he was concerned that dealers are “paying twice”.

“They will be paying the $8000 levy plus they are already supporting the national apprenticeship scheme through their own staff.

“It’s a double dip,” he said.

“I think they should be exempt. But there are no exemptions. I believe the industry bodies could have done more.”

Mr Stocks said that while the levy was a blow to dealers and repairers, at least it was being directed at helping to fund a solution to the problem of the shortage of technical labour.

“I know that the feedback from the bigger dealer groups is that we have to do this. They need the labour and without that their businesses may not be as profitable.

“Dealers need the staff because it is very costly when their equipment – such as a hoist or other workshop equipment – is left idle. So (from that point of view) it’s a win-win for the dealers, the migrants and the customers.”

He said that after 20 years of skills shortage, the situation was not improving.

“We still need skilled workers,” he said.

“We actually need skilled workers more now than before because newer cars have sophisticated technology and we are finding that there’s not enough locals to fill the training gaps.

“There are skilled technicians overseas who are working on the modern technology so it seems natural that we can bring them into Australia. But it appears the government isn’t taking the same attitude.

“There is also the case where technicians and other automotive workers are leaving the industry either because of low wages or because there are more attractive opportunities for wages and career, such as the resources industry.”

Mr Stocks said Australia is in the position now where 1000 successful Visa applicants are entering the country yet 500 people in the industry are leaving each year.

His concerns were backed up by a 2017 report by the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Motor Trades Association of Australia.

The report, called Directions in Australia’s Automotive Industry, surveyed 1100 Australian automotive businesses on skill shortages by occupation for 2018. It is the largest automotive business survey ever conducted and has a margin of error of only three per cent.

The VACC said that responses received through the survey indicated that 45.7 per cent of automotive businesses are currently experiencing skill shortages – which is the highest proportion recorded over recent years.

“The results show that for 2016/17, there is an estimated total shortage of 27,377 skilled personnel across the automotive industry,” it said.

“This shortage is forecast to grow to 35,083 during 2017/18, before moderating slightly to 31,202 in 2018/19. These estimates are based on current skill shortages as reported for 2016/17 and business demand and labour supply forecasts over the next two years as recorded within the survey.”

The report said the skills shortages were widespread across the automotive industry “however occupations within the automotive repair and maintenance sector are in highest demand”.

“Shortages of light vehicle mechanics are critically high, with a national shortage of 12,943 in 2016/17, rising to 16,656 positions in 2017/18, before declining to 14,799 in 2018/19,” it said.

“Other key skill shortages include vehicle spray painters and panel beaters (2320 and 2304 respectively), motor vehicle salespersons (2243), heavy vehicle mechanics (1973) and automotive electricians (1530).

“Survey respondents have identified vehicle painters as being the second highest occupational skill shortage within the automotive industry, behind motor mechanics.

“In the survey, 64 per cent of respondents rated vehicle painters as a critical skill shortage over the next three years or more.”


Australia’s 457 visa has been a system for businesses to sponsor skilled overseas workers to work temporarily in Australia.

It will be abolished next month and replaced with the temporary skill shortage (TSS) visa that will offer three options:

  • Short-term stream for employers to source genuine temporary overseas skilled workers in specific occupations for a conditional maximum of four years
  • Medium-term stream for employers to source highly-skilled overseas workers to fill medium-term critical skills in occupations included on a specific list for up to four years, with eligibility to apply for permanent residence after three years
  • Labour Agreement stream for employers to source overseas skilled workers in accordance with a labour agreement with the Commonwealth, on the basis of a demonstrated need that cannot be met in the Australian labour market and where standard visa programs are not available, with the capacity to negotiate a permanent residence option.

From July 1, 2012, non-resident workers on the 457 skilled immigration visa were able to transition to permanent residency if they had two years with the employer who has sponsored them and if the employer provided a full-time position in the 457 visa holder’s nominated occupation.

The federal government reported that as of June 30, 2016, there were 94,890 primary visa holders in Australia.

But in an audit by the Fair Work Ombudsman conducted between September 2013 and June 2014, it was found that 40 per cent of 457 visa holders were no longer employed by the sponsor or were being paid well below the statutory minimum wage of $53,900.

This caused the concern by the federal government about the legitimacy of the scheme and led to the changes that will be introduced next month.

By Neil Dowling

What’s a Diagnostic Technician worth?

What’s a Diagnostic Technician worth?

All too often I hear service managers complaining they can no longer find decent
technicians, and yet the truth is that the skills shortage hasn’t simply appeared out of

The truth is more confronting, and so most don’t wish to face it. The truth is that the skills
shortages we face today are a direct result of short sighted management over the past 20-
30 years or so within our industry.

Let’s look at a dealership’s investment necessary to develop such professionals.

Take your best Technician who has at least ten years’ brand experience and consider the
investment you’ve made in them. This may be through an apprenticeship scheme, and then
ongoing participation in manufacturer training courses. With all this investment, you’d like
to think that these guys will yield the highest monthly labour GP, but perhaps not anymore.
These days it’s the guys doing efficient maintenance work spinning the filters who achieve
the greatest returns, meanwhile your most decorated techs are typically conducting the
more complex diagnostic work, which can often be more difficult to recover labour, and all
too often at a reduced manufacturer’s warranty labour rate.

This becomes a vicious circle, as we start falling into the trap of getting the apprentices to
spin the filters to achieve the desired labour GP benchmarks we’re chasing, meanwhile
we’re not developing them to keep up-to-date with the latest technologies. These guys then
lose interest due to the monotony of service work, whilst you become more dependent on
the few guys who have the diagnostic skills necessary to fix the more complex jobs.

Apprentice retention rates will likely fall off as a result and the flow-on effect being that at
some point you find you don’t have sufficient resources with diagnostic capability to ensure
all vehicles flowing through the workshop are diagnosed correctly in the first instance.
Ultimately your limited diagnostic resources become stretched, and you start seeing your
fixed right first visit scores heading south. This obviously has a flow on effect to the bottom
line as manufacturers now remunerate dealers according to how well you service your

Perhaps it’s time we started looking at the indirect bonuses paid to dealerships through
customer satisfaction programmes. Surely we should attribute some of the monies paid
through such programmes to the efforts of the more experienced guys who play a key role
in ensuring the vehicle is diagnosed correctly the first time. Perhaps the metric of labour GP,
should be assessed in conjunction with fixed right first visit statistics.

What’s the true value of your most experienced home-grown technicians, who know your
product from bumper to bumper? (All things being equal, assuming they have a good
attitude and are intrinsically motivated in doing their job). If you don’t know it now, then
consider this. If they left tomorrow, could you replace them? If so, where would you get
them from, what would be the costs associated with finding them? What would be the
impact on the business (CSI scores etc.)? How long will it take you to bring another
tradesman up to speed from another brand?

A skilled labour force are the foundations of any service department. If you have high staff
turnover, then it’s likely you’ll be amongst the lower echelons of the CSI rankings. If you’re
CSI scores are poor, then chances are your bottom line financials will be too. Don’t wait for
your labour force to leave before assessing their value. Technology advances faster every
day, and having strong diagnostic skills are critical to the efficient operation of any modern