Clinton Godde gets enough work at his WA garage for more than half a dozen staff but an “abysmal” skills shortage in the car industry has meant he has been unable to get enough skilled workers to turn a profit.
- Clinton Godde is one of many garage owners struggling to find skilled workers
- The WA Motor Trades Association says there are nearly 40,000 vacancies in the automotive industry across Australia
- Customers are waiting several weeks or even months to get work done on their cars
The automotive industry estimates there are close to 40,000 vacancies for jobs such as mechanics, motor trimmers, panel beaters, and spray painters across Australia as it struggles through what is believed to be the worst worker shortage in two decades.
Mr Godde, who runs a garage in the eastern Perth suburb of Bellevue, said the shortage pre-dated COVID-19 and was showing no sign of easing.
“This is a blight that is just continuing,” Mr Godde said.
“I have been looking for staff seriously for two to three years and prior to that I have been looking for a motor vehicle trimmer for six or seven years.”
Mr Godde said the lack of experienced workers had taken a toll on his businesses.
“I am continuing to tread water and keep my head above the water line,” he said.
“I’m not making any money. I don’t want to say I’m going backwards but, if you stay stagnant long enough, it’s hard to know which way you’re turning.
“To have six or seven guys that are churning out work and the cashflow that revolves around that is really, really noticeable and I haven’t had that cash flow for probably the last three years.
“I quite often think I should go and be a farmer or something.”
‘Crisis’ level shortage closes businesses
The WA Motor Trade Association CEO Stephen Moir said, with skills shortages at “crisis” levels across Australia, Mr Godde’s story was not unusual.
“It’s not unique at all. In fact, it’s common,” Mr Moir said.
He said some businesses had already shut up shop.
“It seems unusual that a business would close as a result of too much work but we’ve got to remember that these are mum-and-dad businesses and the pressure of that can be too much,” he said.
“We’ve seen a few shops closing as a result of demand. They just can’t keep up.”
The association has taken on a record number of trainees this year but it is expected to be several years before they are work-ready.
In the meantime, Mr Moir said the federal government needed to make it easier, quicker, and more affordable for small businesses to bring in skilled workers from overseas.
“Right now on average it will cost a small business $20,000 to bring one migrant worker across,” he said.
“That is exceptionally high for a small businesses to cope with but when you’re needing four, five or six staff members that becomes almost impossible.”
There are already more than 2,400 skilled migrant workers currently employed in Australia’s automotive industry, with almost 700 in Western Australia.
However, the Department of Home Affairs said it acknowledged the pressure skills shortages were putting on the community.
“The upcoming Jobs and Skills Summit will provide the opportunity for meaningful consultation with industry stakeholders to address labor shortages and ensure Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19,” a spokesperson said.
The department said the cost of bringing in skilled workers included a tax-deductible levy.
Customers wait weeks, months for work
Worker shortages have taken their toll on customers, with people waiting up to six weeks for a standard service or even months to get their car repaired, refurbished, or restored.
Kalgoorlie resident Mandy Reidy has been waiting almost a year to get her old EJ Holden out of the garage and onto the road.
Ms Reidy said she had reached out to several businesses to try to get the vehicle restored.
“I have looked locally, I have had people suggested from the eastern states… it’s just about a year now that I have been waiting and I still have to wait,” she said.
“It’s a bit slow-paced and I have found that with other sources that I have reached out to try to get the car restored are just either a one-man band or they can’t find workers.”
Ms Reidy bought the vehicle from a friend, to remind her of the EJ Holden she took on a road trip across the Nullarbor nearly 30 years ago.
“It means a lot to me and I just want to be able to drive it again.”