Motor Industry

Thousands of people with experience in engineering and mechanics leave the Armed Forces every year; what career opportunities can they and other Service leavers expect in the civilian motor industry?

Thousands of people with experience in engineering and mechanics leave the Armed Forces every year; what career opportunities can they and other Service leavers expect in the civilian motor industry?

Napoleon Bonaparte allegedly once said that an army marches on its stomach. Yet modern day soldiers seldom march anywhere at all – at least, not outside of the parade ground. Instead, the Army, like the Royal Navy and the RAF, depends upon the skills of its engineers and mechanics to keep moving; just like most of the UK’s population, the Forces rely on motorized transport to get around.

There are over 32 million vehicles in the UK; indeed, according to the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), the UK’s retail motor industry directly employs around 584,000 people in some 69,000 businesses. So if you have gained mechanical experience and skills in the military, or if you want to learn, there are a wide variety of opportunities on civvy street.

According to Automotive Skills, the sector skills council for the retail motor industry (which covers the maintenance and repair of vehicles, as well as their sale), the sector is well-suited to those who enjoy practical tasks and working with state-of-the-art equipment. Technical roles in vehicle maintenance and repair include:

Auto Electrician: responsible for the installation and repair of electrical and electronic systems; this is a role which is bound to become even more important as our vehicles become more electronic in design.

Commercial Vehicle Technician: concerned with the regular servicing, maintenance and repair of lorries and other commercial vehicles such as buses.

Light Vehicle Technician: repairs, services and maintains cars and light vans.

Motorcycle Technician: as the name suggests, motorcycle technicians repair, maintain and service motorcycles.

Roadside Recovery Technician: responsible for the assessing and securing of broken down vehicles (and those involved in accidents) plus their safe removal and transportation.

Roadside Assistance Technican: also known as motor vehicle breakdown engineer, their job is the assessment, diagnosis and repair of faults as part of a roadside assistance service to motorists.

The retail motor industry also offers a wide range of roles in sales & marketing, administration and management.

Vocational qualifications gained while in the military – such as City & Guilds and NVQs – are recognized outside, although it is worthwhile considering one of the related courses run by the Career Transition Partnership (CTP) at their main Resettlement Training Centre in Aldershot. Currently, the CTP run regular courses for workshop technicians and roadside patrols – both last for two weeks, are designed for people with a Service mechanical background, and aim to provide the Service leaver with the theoretical and practical experience they need to do the job. Quite apart from offering a useful refresher course, they can emphasise your skills to civilian employers.

“We work directly with the CTP to help retain people from the Armed Forces for work in the motor industry,” says the IMI’s Aisleen Marley, “by approving their training courses through the IMI’s Quality Assured Awards (QAA) scheme. Those who complete the QAA course are also eligible to apply for membership of the IMI, which is the Professional Association for individuals working in all areas of the industry – from sales to vehicle maintenance. Membership gives them added recognition as professionals within the industry, which adds to the qualifications they have already received.”

The IMI also runs the Automotive Technician Accreditation (ATA) scheme, a voluntary programme designed to underline the competence of technicians working in the retail motor industry. ATA registered technicians have passed a comprehensive and rigorous series of tests of practical skill and knowledge, and are reassessed every five years to ensure they’re abreast of the latest technological developments.

If you’re looking to enter the motor industry without any previous mechanical experience, there are around 300 colleges and training providers across the UK that offer qualifications including National/Scottish Vocational Qualifications (N/SVQs) and City & Guilds/BTEC Certificates or Diplomas. Information on these can be found through both IMI and Automotive Skills; it is important to check that the qualification ensures you meet the National Occupational Standards (NOS) agreed for the sector.

Most mechanics work in small independent garages, in the large service departments of manufacturers’ dealerships, or specialist fast-fit chains such as Kwik-Fit; others work in organisations such as local authorities, vehicle breakdown companies, large private firms and the emergency services. In terms of career progression it is possible for experienced and qualified mechanics to go on to qualify as MOT testers, approved LPG engine converters or as roadside assistance technicians for the likes of the AA or RAC.

Many vehicle technicians are paid hourly rates on a scale guided by the National Joint Council (NJC) of the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF); others will be on annual salaries. Average wages are not high – from £14k-£18k a year – but those with experience can earn over £20k. Breakdown mechanics earn £13k-£23.5k, depending on experience. According to the most recent report from the RMIF, while many sales executives and business managers experienced overall falls in their paypackets last year (thanks to reduced commission from lower car sales) technicians/mechanics benefited from an annual increase of more than 5%.

The retail motor industry offers a worthwhile career with prospects, and is ideal for those who enjoy working with their hands and seeing an immediate, real-world result from their work.


Automotive Skills
Careers Helpline: 0800 093 1777

The Institute of the Motor Industry
01992 511521

Retail Motor Industry Federation
020 7580 9122

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