Venatu: Meeting the challenges of coach and bus recruitment

Some technicians have been reluctant to move over to zero-emission vehicles

Venatu Recruitment Group specialises in recruiting for the PSV sector. routeone learns how it is tackling current issues within the industry

Venatu Recruitment Group has divisions dedicated to recruitment across industries, from automotive to commercial and engineering.

Amanda Peters, Venatu Contractor Engagement and Process Manager, carries 10 years of recruitment and HR experience from within the UK commercial and technical sectors. As part of the contracting side of the Venatu Automotive team, she unites PSV engineers and HGV technicians with employment opportunities. There is also a “perm” side of recruitment, where engineers are recruited to full-time roles.

Filling the gaps

Permanent recruitment into the PSV sector is a candidate-led market. “In other sectors, candidates are ready and waiting, and we chase vacancies and opportunities,” Amanda explains. “It doesn’t work like that in automotive. We always have vacancies; it’s the candidates we need. If a candidate ticks all the boxes and has the skills they need, we can get them placed by the end of the day.”

Venatu recruits skilled technicians for permanent roles, usually with five years’ working experience within a fleet workshop or dealership and the relevant qualifications.

The supplier approaches previous employers to ensure staff have the right skills for the roles they are looking to move into. For example, an engineer or technician moving from a dealership to a fleet workshop works well: “The reason staff might move from dealerships is that they are KPI focused, and fast-paced environments. If that isn’t the environment someone wants to work in, we can move them to a fleet workshop.”

It does not always work the other way around, which is why Venatu gets to know its market and clients and has the conversations to ensure such a move is right for the person involved.

To that end it has also placed apprentices into companies itself, rather than relying solely on colleges. “We go out and look for people who we feel fit the bill,” Amanda says. “A lot of young people leave college or university, and might have the desire to get into a technician role, but find after a couple of months that the workshop environment isn’t right for them.”

Venatu therefore sources people with a fit for the role. That could mean an affinity for tinkering or a family background.

Salaries and benefits is still a step to overcome for many technicians, and Venatu is working to address this. “A lot of technicians mention that their skills are not appreciated and that salaries don’t reflect the amount of time spent training,” Amanda points out. “It’s something we bring to clients’ attention where possible. A government incentive, such as an apprenticeships levy, would be helpful in the bus industry to bring in more engineers.”

A more technology-focused role may be appealing to young people

Contracting: Different challenges

Those working in permanent positions have discovered there is often
more money to be earned by contracting. Such an approach also gives
greater flexibility over travel and work-life balance.

But that does not mean contracting doesn’t come with its own challenges. Shortages are brought on by a lack of apprentices, but also working conditions. Venatu works closely with its contractors and has taken steps to ensure that they have satisfaction with work and are being upskilled as the industry changes.

During the weekend of 30-31 October, it focused on Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) hybrid and electric vehicle training at Level 2 and 3 within one of its client’s bus garages.

“We now have five more contractors trained on electric vehicles with an IMI Level 3 certificate, because we want to gradually make sure all our contractors are able to do that in preparation for the move away from diesel and that we can continue to meet client demands across the UK,” Amanda says.

Some technicians have been reluctant to move over to zeroemission vehicles and would prefer to remain with diesel. Preliminary talks are taking place on plugging that gap with light vehicle technicians. “If we could get car or light vehicle technicians Irtec accreditation and IMI Level 3 training, that could fill the gap in the market while offering those technicians a higher salary,” says Amanda.

IMI Level 2 and 3 electric vehicle training is on offer to qualified engineers in bus and truck. Every two months, five contractors will be given weekend training. “We thought it might be a way of getting our clients on board – we’re always looking at ways we can fill the gaps, because demand is much greater than supply at the moment,” Amanda says.

The company is also working on ensuring contractors are educated on how legal changes affect them. Recent changes to off-payroll working rules (IR35) meant some contractors chose to switch to permanent positions, or to work for themselves, despite falling outside of IR35 legislation as interpreted through HMRC status determination.

“We’ve found that the larger operating companies have decided to stay inside IR35 because they have a high percentage of staff in other areas of their businesses affected, such as drivers,” says Amanda. “That has made it quite difficult, because that placed many contractors under umbrella conditions.”

Amanda suggests a body which governs IR35 conditions for the coach and bus industry to flag up any problems, similar to one that exists within the construction industry. “We’ve found that by educating clients and showing them there’s no reason for PSV contractors to be inside IR35 rules and continue to work as they’ve always done, that is starting to pan out more for us now and things are returning to normal.”

Making the industry more attractive

Given changes towards more electric vehicles, Venatu recognises a possibility that workshops and the conditions of workshops will change. This potentially presents an opportunity for a shift in perception in working conditions and a way to make coach and bus more attractive to apprentices.

“Salary is still going to be key,” Amanda adds, “but if we can get more apprentices in that recognise the industry is changing, that may plug the gap. It’s down to clients offering the right benefits and working conditions for those apprentices. We need more contractors, and we don’t want to lose anybody because of poor salaries or working conditions.”

A more technology-focused role may be appealing to young people. Conversations with operators that have introduced electric vehicles show that some resistance is coming from older generations who perhaps don’t want to make the shift themselves at a late stage in their careers. The necessity of recruiting and retraining younger talent will be especially important in such a scenario.

“I don’t know when diesel buses will be eliminated,” Amanda says, “but it’s something we’re monitoring, and we’re making sure our technicians can make the switch to electric. We know they’re proficient enough.”