May 26, 2023 | Policy

South African retail motor dealers preparing for changes in employees’ skills requirements

South Africa, 24 May 2023:  “Motor dealers in South Africa are fully aware that they will have to adapt significantly in all aspects of their business if they are to remain sustainable and profitable in the rapidly changing world of mobility,” says Gary McCraw, Director of the National Automobile Dealers’ Association (NADA), a constituent association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI).

“A big switch to electrified vehicles will not occur as quickly in our country as in some of those in Europe, but we must be prepared to cater for electrified vehicles as well as those powered by petrol and diesel fuel for many years to come. We will also be faced with a growing number of vehicles – particularly trucks, vans, and buses – that use hydrogen for motive power. Some of these are already in use at local mines.

“To remain relevant and ahead of the curve, current and future employees in our industry will need to become multi-skilled as our market is too small to have specialists focused on each power source. This will apply to sales, service, and parts. 

A key focus for the future is to employ new team members that embrace the changing skillsets required by the industry, stressed McCraw. “We are committed to uplifting new team members to ensure they can embrace the changing skillsets in the industry.

“The automotive industry is committed to transformation, equity and diversity in the workplace and we believe that the evolution of the industry to new energy vehicles, hybrids and the like creates the perfect opportunity to continue the journey of transformation,” explained McCraw.

“Obviously those with a matriculation certificate know that studying further to achieve a tertiary qualification is an important step towards securing a job in these tough times, with unemployment rampant. I am sure they are also aware of the need to upskill in line with the changing demands of the workplace, where subjects such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution are now a reality.

“However, there are still many work opportunities for those who seek to take a different path to the university channel and seek a career in the trades. The results of a recent survey by Remchannel HR Quarterly show there is still a dire need for young artisans in a host of different disciplines in South Africa. The survey showed that only 0,6% of qualified artisans are under 25 years of age! The government has a goal of 30 000 artisans qualifying annually, which is far from the reality. And this is merely to replace the existing aging artisans, not the thousands more needed by the industry as vehicle sales grow each year.

“While many current occupations will disappear or change significantly, there are still many opportunities in the retail motor industry for qualified automotive technicians and those who have studied mechatronics. Besides the practical work experience in a dealership, there are ample opportunities to improve skills with training courses or further study at a tertiary institution while working,” added the NADA Director. A vehicle dealership is five businesses in one: New Car Sales, Used Car Sales, Parts, Workshop and Finance & Insurance, and offers skills and training in multiple areas spanning a diverse number of potential careers.

Hiring the best and most suitable candidates as well as retaining existing employees were both high on the list of topics discussed at NADA’s recent conference in Johannesburg.

Many aspects surrounding the complexity of being part of the South African motor industry were covered by Sifiso Skenjana, the Managing Director of ESG Analytics, who is a strategist and policy advisor to public and private enterprises on economic and political “crosscurrents”, of which there are many being experienced by business in general right now.

His presentation titled “Rethinking Growth in a Complex and Uncertain Country” focussed on an industry in transition. He spoke at length about the value of human capital and said that business “must leave no human behind” in a country where it is estimated that 71% of the population live below the living wage of R7 700 a month.

“We can’t afford to miss a drumbeat. In this regard, South Africa as a whole, and the motor industry in particular, must look to expanding our businesses into the rest of Africa. At present approximately 24% of our exports go to markets on our continent, which presents major opportunities there.

“These will provide desperately needed economies of scale to keep our businesses viable. To achieve this, we need to ensure we make maximum use of the available human capital,” explained Skenjana.

His sentiments were supported by David Lowrie, Global Head, Learning Solutions at Sewells MSXi. He is based in Australia and has spent the past 30 years driving business improvement worldwide, concentrating on people development. 

He said it was essential to attract the right people into the automotive business and then to build them up as the next generation of retail talent. Lowrie stressed the importance of employee engagement to keep staff, as it was costly to rehire. He explained that, unfortunately, the first to go in a confrontational situation were the most talented people as they knew they could find another job.

“Employer mindsets must now, more than ever, include recognising skills and utilising them to improve a business in general,” said Lowrie. “Talent must be measured and then managed efficiently for maximum effectiveness.”