Auto industry skills shortage reaches ‘crisis’ levels as businesses close

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Clinton Godde gets enough work in his WA garage for more than half a dozen employees, but an “appalling” skills shortage in the auto industry has prevented him from recruiting enough skilled workers to turn a profit.

The auto industry estimates there are nearly 40,000 vacancies for jobs such as mechanics, engine trimmers, panel beaters and spray painters across Australia as it battles what is believes to be the worst labor shortage in two decades.

Mr Godde, who runs a garage in Perth’s eastern suburb of Bellevue, said the shortage predated COVID-19 and showed no signs of easing.

“It’s a scourge that only continues,” Mr Godde said.

“I had been seriously looking for staff for two to three years and before that I had been looking for a motor vehicle brush cutter for six or seven years.”

Small business owner Clinton Godde says lack of staff means he doesn’t make money.(ABC News: Jacqueline Lynch)

Mr Godde said the lack of experienced workers had hurt his businesses.

“I continue to walk on water and keep my head above the waterline,” he said.

“I’m not making money. I don’t mean I’m going backwards but, if you stay stagnant long enough, it’s hard to know which way you’re turning.

“Having six or seven guys producing work and the cash flow from that is really, really noticeable and I haven’t had that cash flow in probably the last three years.

“I think quite often that I should go and be a farmer or something.”

Firm ‘crisis’ level shortage of businesses

WA Motor Trade Association CEO Stephen Moir said with skills shortages at “crisis” levels across Australia, Mr Godde’s story was not unusual.

“It’s not unique at all. In fact, it’s common,” Moir said.

He said some businesses had already closed up shop.

“It seems unusual for a business to close because of too much work, but we have to remember that these are mom and dad businesses and the pressure can be too much,” he said.

“We’ve seen a few stores close due to demand. They just can’t keep up.”

A man in a suit and tie stands in front of a car with the hood open
WA Motor Trades Association CEO Stephen Moir said more needs to be done to attract skilled workers from overseas.(ABC News: Jacqueline Lynch)

The association welcomed a record number of trainees this year, but it will take several more years before they are ready to work.

In the meantime, Moir said the federal government needs to make it easier, faster and more affordable for small businesses to bring in skilled workers from overseas.

“Right now it will cost an average of $20,000 for a small business to smuggle a migrant worker,” he said.

“That’s exceptionally high for a small business, but when you need four, five or six employees, it becomes almost impossible.”

A man with a beard repairing a car
Clinton Godde works in his small business himself because he doesn’t have enough qualified personnel.(ABC News: Jacqueline Lynch)

There are already more than 2,400 skilled migrant workers currently employed in the Australian automotive industry, including nearly 700 in Western Australia.

However, the Home Office said it recognized the pressure that skills shortages were putting on the community.

“The upcoming Jobs and Skills Summit will provide an opportunity for meaningful consultation with industry stakeholders to address labor shortages and ensure Australia’s economic recovery from COVID. -19,” a spokesperson said.

The department said the cost of hiring skilled workers included a tax-deductible levy.

Customers wait weeks, months to work

Labor shortages have taken their toll on customers, with people waiting up to six weeks for standard service or even months to have their cars repaired, refurbished or restored.

Kalgoorlie resident Mandy Reidy has been waiting almost a year to get her old EJ Holden out of the garage and onto the road.

An old photo of a woman and her dog and an EJ Holden
Mandy Reidy has been waiting about a year to refurbish a car similar to the one she drove through the Nullarbor almost 30 years ago.(Provided: Mandy Reidy)

Ms Reidy said she had contacted several companies to try to have the vehicle restored.

“I looked locally, got suggestions from people in the eastern states…I’ve been waiting for about a year now and I still have to wait,” she said.

“It’s a bit slow and I’ve found that with other sources I’ve contacted to try and get the car restored, there’s only one man or they can’t find workers .”

Ms Reidy bought the vehicle from a friend, to remind her of the EJ Holden she took on a road trip through the Nullarbor almost 30 years ago.

“It means a lot to me and I just want to be able to drive it again.”

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