ARC Coachworks managing director discusses skills gap as Labour leader calls for furlough scheme replacement

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on September 15th 2020, 11:05am

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has today urged the government to replace the furlough scheme and do away with “firing and rehiring” methods to banish the “scarring effect” of “mass unemployment”.

Sir Keir’s speech addresses concerns raised by the Trades Union Congress [TUC], and comes as the government’s Job Retention Scheme, which has seen almost ten million workers furloughed since it was introduced in March, is to lapse at the end of October.

The latest UK unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown the highest levels of joblessness for two years, with the unemployment rate rising by 4.1 per cent in the three months to July. Young people were among the most adversely affected.

The TUC has already proposed targeted support for adversely-affected sectors, whole the government has said that it is already putting a plan in place to protect jobs.

Employment minister Mims Davies said that she did not believe the government was “afraid of supporting” the “sectors that take longer to come back” from the pandemic, adding that the government “can have fiscal events where the chancellor can start to look at that.”

Data from The Institute for Employment Studies estimates that there will be between 450,000 and 700,000 redundancies over the coming months.

However, the rise in unemployment is likely to lead to an upsurge in people looking to upskill and venture into new sectors, which could have a positive knock-on effect on training and addressing the skills gap which has blighted British industry for some time.

Issues with recruitment are longstanding in some sectors. ARC Coachworks, a firm that specialises in accident repair for commercial vehicles, is one company which has had to face these very issues.

Establishing the business in 2010, managing director Gary Clark grew the Middlesex based firm from a company within his own home to one which now employs 35 people.

Yet, even a successful SME such as this has highlighted the 'hugely difficult issue' of being able to employ 'skilled people' in current times.

Writing in The Parliamentary Review, Clark said: “There are simply not enough young people and apprentices entering into the [accident repairs] profession. Too many do not see this as a desirable career path – an issue that I believe is generational, and not something with a quick and easy fix.

“Decades ago, you would begin thinking about work in your mid-teens and decide fairly promptly on a course of action. Although I am not advocating a return to such times, I do think there are lessons to draw from that era regarding employment.”

With the forecast rise in unemployment and the launch of the government’s kickstart scheme under its Plan for Jobs, now may well be a landmark moment for individuals to move into different sectors seeking new opportunities, which could bring about a closing of the skills gap in some sectors and an increased uptake in training.

Considering the increase in demand for services such as online shopping during the Covid-19 pandemic, fleet vehicles transporting products across the country - vehciles which ARC Coachworks specialise in up-keeping - are consistently on the road, meaning that the firm’s services remain all-important.

Clark said: “It’s worth remembering that these are vehicles that are indispensable to the modern logistical effort of quick home deliveries. This is a unique area in the vehicle repairs industry, which requires from us a rare and specific skill set.

“This is because we are repairing vehicles with unique parts in them, including computers and refrigerators. Therefore, we are not only fixing chassis and other generic aspects of motor repairs; we are also fixing unfamiliar mechanical components that many other repair services cannot. Doing this requires significant experience in the sector.”

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