I write this column in 35-degree heat with a cold beer by my side, sitting beside a private pool at a very nice hotel in Rhodes. “All right for some,” I hear you say. But being a small business owner, you can never really switch off, and the constant burden of staff shortage is one that no operator in this industry can ignore.
Why is it, then, that when young people look at future careers, transport and engineering are sectors that are overlooked at such events, yet university admissions, and years of student debt, are pushed upon them?
When I left school, we were all sat down and asked which sixth form we would be attending, and what university course we would be aiming for. The looks on the careers advisors’ faces when I told them that I already had an engineering apprenticeship lined up was one of shock and disgust!
That now has proved worth its weight in gold when I look back at the cross-section of people I attended school with and who are saddled with thousands of pounds of student debt and countless sociology and psychology degrees, but are either working behind the bar in the local pub, stacking shelves in a supermarket, or have changed careers completely and spent another three years training for the job they have ended up in.
Yes, we all know that being a coach driver is stigmatised as not the most glamorous career in the world. So let’s change the way we promote the job.
How about: “Want to get paid to travel the country, driving a vehicle that costs more than your house, loaded with the latest technology? Become a coach driver and be the person to make people’s dreams come true.”
Or: “Fancy getting paid to visit countless attractions and stunning scenery throughout the country? All you have to do is drive there and back.”
It is about perception, surely.
The same is true for engineering. The way in which we promote the job is all wrong. Being a bus fitter sounds like the most boring role in the world – doesn’t it? Advertise the career’s plus points, rather than using a simple “PCV mechanic required.”
The transport industry is one of the few where you can leave school, walk into an apprenticeship the next day, and by the time you are 21 potentially be earning upwards of £40,000 per year while receiving continuous professional development, enhancing your knowledge and skillset, and working on the latest technologies and vehicles of the future.
The perceived idea of a mechanic is an older person, dirty overalls, stinking of diesel in a cold, dark and dingy workshop while braying the living daylights out of a bolt that has seized. While that is still the norm in some places, many are now well lit, clean, heated, well equipped, and generally not bad places to work.
For me, walking out of a private school (to which I am eternally grateful for the start it gave me and the life skills I gained) and straight into an apprenticeship the next day was one of the best decisions I have made.
The industry needs to change the way it presents itself to younger people. It is time that CPT, RHA, IRTE and other trade bodies took that onboard and started promoting our sector in the positive light that it deserves.