The foundation of the car service and repair sector has been built on the back of apprenticeships. We would hazard a guess that the overwhelming majority of garage owners we deal with started their careers as apprentices.

Yet those apprentices are becoming more difficult to find.

We keep hearing about the skills shortage together with the lack of understanding and careers advice in schools which has made finding hard-working and eager to learn youngsters to help your business grow increasingly hard to come by.

The government has thrown its weight behind the apprenticeship wagon with a target to create three million apprenticeships by 2020, so you would think more schools would be waving the apprenticeship flag. But with school funding dependent on numbers, little wonder that schools are keener to extol the virtues of an academic route not to mention that it’s something they more readily understand and are more comfortable explaining.

If you’re considering employing an apprentice, we recommend you start looking for your perfect recruit now.

You can check out would-be apprentices by offering work experience from June onwards when the GCSE exams finish and this year’s crop of school leavers suddenly find themselves with more than two months of the summer on their hands.

Our advice is to make it known now that you have an apprenticeship on offer from September and work experience available in June and July.

Work experience offers you a great way of getting to know would-be new recruits and also gives the young person a taste of both working for your company and the job itself. Effectively, you get to try each other on for size and assess the fit.

Hopefully, you’ll find someone who works hard, is passionate about the industry, keen to learn new skills and is able to think for themselves.

Put information on your website detailing you welcome work experience applications and highlight it on your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Tell your customers. You can even add a bit of information to each invoice.

Following the launch of an inquiry to investigate how the government plans to achieve its apprenticeship goal by the sub-committee on education, skills and the economy, the Institute of the Motor Industry’s (IMI) chief exec Steve Nash highlighted the lack of careers advice in schools together with a ‘conflict of interest’ which sees schools invested in encouraging their young people to stay in the education system until they are 18 as barriers to achieving the apprenticeship target.

The IMI undertook research last year which highlighted concerns among training advisors that businesses will not be able to recruit the right calibre of apprentices to help their businesses and the economy in general continue to grow.

More than three quarters of those surveyed thought the careers advice, which has been provided in schools since 2012 on an ad hoc basis, was unhelpful and only 10% thought advice from the National Careers Service has had an impact on apprentice recruitment.

According to the IMI, the retail motor industry needs 12,000 apprentices a year just to stand still, let alone grow.

His concerns were more recently echoed at the Geneva Motor Show when UK managing directors of both Ford and Nissan said the skills shortage posed a major challenge to dealerships this year particularly in aftersales.

Both Ford of Britain chairman and managing director Andy Barratt and Nissan Motor (GB) managing director Jim Wright told industry magazine AM the key is recruiting the right young people to boost the aftersales talent pool.

The shortage of good, skilled technicians places dealerships under more cost pressure when it comes to putting the right team together as technician skills are increasingly in more demand.

Last year Volvo told its dealers that they would have to recruit an apprentice as part of its commitment to brand standards and to help plug the skills gap. Meanwhile, Yorkshire-based franchised dealer JCT600 announced in October it would be taking on 28 new apprentices in its dealerships with another 30 expected to be recruited this year. The company was likely to start its apprenticeship recruitment campaign in April.

With so much competition to attract the best young recruits and a lack of understanding among parents and schools about the career path offered by automotive apprenticeships, garages which start looking for talented individuals in their local area earlier rather than later are more likely to find the person they need.

National Apprenticeship Week takes place next week from 14-18 March so now is a good time to start talking about apprentices and what the industry can offer…