I think that we have let a whole generation down at a time when most in our industry are crying out for real talent .
The 16-24 generation are suddenly faced with some very stark economic realities. They are faced with serious debt, or a very slow crawl up the ladder.
I have some self-interest here, as my own children are at this stage. They are frankly horrified at how little support there is for them, and more importantly for some of their friends who are perhaps less fortunate. And I have to agree.
So it was with at least some optimism that I greeted a recent government announcement that they were pouring new money into apprenticeships. Their target, so I gather, is to increase funding by about £50 million (that sounds a bit of a drop in the ocean to me, but they are expecting industry to at least match it) and to increase the number of apprentices by around 100,000 by 2014.
The motor industry was singled out as a sector where apprentices are needed, citing poor service standards and the 2005 threat of a Super Complaint to the OFT. According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the funding should be used to enable industries to set new professional standards.
We may have accreditation schemes for technicians, but now the industry finds itself seriously short of them and apprentices.
I have recently interviewed many of the heads of our biggest dealer groups. They all privately recognise that the motor industry has an enormous job to do to attract the right people. Almost to a man (I do mean "almost to a man") they will tell you that their biggest problem is people and the lack of the right ones.
They worry about the industry’s image and that they all are very keen to do something positive about this. These are passionate people who really enjoy the industry, can see the opportunity it presents and are frustrated that bright, intelligent and capable people do not seem to be joining the industry in enough numbers.
We may have let a whole generation down, but it goes even deeper. We have the most sophisticated motor distribution in Europe, second only to the US globally. But as an industry, we have one of the poorest images. Thank goodness for Bankers, MPs and Estate Agents.
Where will the next generation of leaders come from in our industry? Since the late 80’s I have seen a whole generation take control of the industry, grow up and mature. And guess what? They still control most of the dealer groups today. This golden generation has done much the same across many other sectors of the UK economy.
They now have age discrimination legislation, no limit on the retirement age, and a host of other factors working in their favour. And we have a generation of 16 to 24year-olds amongst whom there is spiralling unemployment -nearly 1,000,000 out of work.
So the apprenticeship announcement is good news. Amongst those million there must be a few genuinely talented, driven young people we can make use of. If only to let this generation hand the baton over to the next.