The Automotive Sector and Staff from Overseas

Don’t panic! This is not a political article, and it does steer clear of Donald Trump – but, I hold up my hands, it does discuss Brexit.

Are you still reading? I hope so. Because we are talking here about the automotive sector and how to cater for non UK workers

So let’s start with some facts.

We don’t have the exact numbers – because being a member of the EU we don’t have to register EU workers as ‘foreign’ – but it is estimated that of the UK’s 31 million workers, 2 million were born in the EEA and some 2.4 million are from ‘the rest of the world’. This means that EU workers represent some 6% of workers in the UK and ‘rest of the world’ workers in the UK are some 9%. These figures are according to the Social Market Foundation May 2016.

If we look at the UK automotive sector we know there is a skills shortage. Indeed, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders Industry Forum of 2015 at that point we had a skilled worker shortfall of some 5,000.

It’s difficult to find numbers for how many vehicle technicians and other retailer roles are taken by non UK born citizens, but the NFDA (National Franchised Dealers Association) suggests there are approximately 4,900 franchised dealers in the UK, employing 200,000 people. A figure between 6% and 9% suggests we have between 12,000 and 18,000 non UK born workers in franchised dealerships alone.

So, what is happening with the rights of EU residents to work in the UK post Brexit? The answer is, that as things stand we don’t know. We’re living through a time of great change, and the automotive sector is not immune: lots of facts, lots of confusion, lots of uncertainty.

Let’s leave the facts behind for a moment and think about the people who make up the many thousands who work in the sector - people in your business right now and how they and their families might be feeling. They have made a commitment to move to the UK and are in work quite legally, and now it seems their jobs could be under threat and they may have to apply for citizenship, apply for a working visa or consider returning home. There is an emotional price to pay for that uncertainty, never mind the anecdotal press stories we hear of threatening and inappropriate comments and worse against ‘migrant workers’.

And we are not alone as a sector. It is reported that the NHS, and social care in particular, is being hit hard in recruiting and retaining this sector of employees and that uncertainty at best - and bullying at worse - is placing extra strain on employee morale.

So, if you employ EU or non UK nationals what should you do? How can you keep their motivation and engagement buoyant when they are uncertain as to what the future holds?

Unfortunately, you can’t reassure them what will happen to their employment status, as we don’t know. As ever honesty is the best policy. What we can offer is support. Support that they are valued and welcome as long as the law is as it is and that you will support them in any change to the situation.

Certainly in your work place you should not accept bullying or even ‘banter’ at this time aimed at people who are feeling uncertain and there are things you as a manager can do. The Equality Act of 2010 defines harassment as “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual”. So your colleagues’ Brexit ‘banter’ aimed at a non UK worker who is feeling vulnerable could easily land you in a harassment claim.

A recent Gallup survey - State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, 2016 - found that 67% of employees whose managers focused on their strengths were fully engaged in their work, as compared to only 31% of employees whose managers focused on their weaknesses. Put simply, positive feedback from a boss saying a worker is doing a good job, having a thank you and a pat on the back for work well done is far more beneficial than finding fault.

Maybe it is time in your next review, or even over a coffee, to simply say that you value somebody and the contribution they make – positive feedback goes a long way, and whatever the future brings we all like to feel wanted and valued.


Malcolm is RTS Group’s Managing Director so he oversees everything in the company and spends a large proportion of his time on new business development. He joined us initially as an associate, setting up the Mazda Academy, and became MD in 2013. He is a Fellow of the Institute of the Motor Industry.

Malcolm’s background is as a freelance trainer, largely in the automotive sector but also within the finance industry. His first ever job was as a paperboy – he delivered 40 papers a day from 6am, and was paid double on a Sunday because of the weight he had to carry!

He admits he has a somewhat untidy desk and should probably get the coffees in a bit more often, but his good humour and go-getting approach means the team let him off. In his spare time, Malcolm is a rugby referee travelling across the south of England, and he has three grown-up children. Malcolm describes himself as “curious” which makes him the perfect person to explore new opportunities for RTS Group.