cooke peter

Grandparents are used to being asked impertinent and impossible questions.

I was recently asked such a question by a [just] eight-year-old grandson: “Grandad, will I be able to work in the motor industry just like you – will the jobs be the same as now?’

There is no definitive answer, but promised a response with my thoughts. The reply went something like this.

Dear George: You asked me an interesting, but impossible to answer, question. It will be 15 years before you enter the jobs market. Let me try to give you some thoughts as to how I think the industry might change.

Education and skills will become ever more important. You will be competing in a true global economy whether we stay in the EU or not. Currently there are more qualified people chasing interesting employment than jobs exist – so you will have to be good!

Traditional employment in the motor industry may change radically. Employment in assembly will become relatively scarcer as more robots are introduced. The remaining roles will be highly-skilled electronics management and service support.

Tier one and two opportunities will expand making sub-assemblies for cars. These jobs may be anywhere in the world with both large and smaller innovative businesses.

Roles in management and administration will increasingly be computerised and routine human tasks may all but disappear. Management by ‘big numbers’ will grow.

The challenge will be how to give trainees the experience they need to turn them into managers and real decision makers if lower level traditional ‘experience-generating roles’ disappear.

Vehicle finance will see changes too.

Perhaps users will acquire ‘five years of vehicle provision’ rather than a vehicle. They would pay a monthly contract hire fee and the manufacturer or finance provider would have the right to change the vehicle as appropriate. Employment will be tighter as the whole exercise could be computerised. There will be growth in regulation.

Motor dealers’ roles may be challenged by people buying on line. Maybe we’ll see a small number of megadealer stores where current models are on show and one buys on line?

Your generation will be totally computer literate with little fear of using online services.

The other part of the dealer operation – service – may be equally challenged.

Surgeons use robotics to perform operations, how long before car service is routinely undertaken robotically?

The parts department too could change. I wonder if whole parts inventories, or particularly slow moving parts could be replaced by 3D printers which would create the components required for use in the service workshop?

Electric cars will, in 15 years, be the dominant force in the market.

Currently in the UK there are a thousand trained technicians for electric cars.

Autonomous cars may become a major force.

They could change the shape of the market as older people could continue to drive autonomous cars long after the time they stop driving today. That in turn will create new opportunities in terms of vehicle finance and provision. Autonomous vehicles will also create a new IT industry.

Over time autonomous car provision will become a critical part of the daily rental industry as business users seek the convenience of being able to summon a driverless car at will.

Again, that will open a whole new world of IT and artificial intelligence, management, provision and regulation.

Used car operations too may well go online.

Technology will enable dealers to know the driving and maintenance history of individual cars. They will be able to make accurate used car price, know how much work is required to put it in showroom condition and the price level it will justify. Because of the ability of would be buyers to check local prices, we will probably have an industry with very tight margins.

Maybe cars will have shorter lives than today; model life cycles will shorten to generate sales. Virtually all used cars will be recycled with component reuse and the non-reused components melted and recycled.

This may sound a little depressing when you come to look for an industry offering a career. I doubt if more than a handful of true visionaries have a clear view of where the industry is going. But it will happen.

So what might this mean to you for the next fifteen years?

What skills will you need?

The first is ‘communication skills’ – yes, you must be able to discuss, argue and negotiate with others. Communication is a two way facility. Equally, you will need to be mathematically aware and capable, that applies to developing your computer skills too.

Given industry globalisation, language skills will be important. You are fluent in English, the language of the industry, I think you will need to be competent in at least two other languages – Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish – for starters.

Remember, there are 100,000 children in the UK with English as a second or third language. Lots of people little older than you can already work in several languages.

Oh yes – what might you study at university, assuming you choose to go that route? Many might disagree but I think the study is as important as the topic. Choose one you will enjoy, work hard at it. The discipline of study is as important as the topic – and so is choice of university.

Good luck with your studies!

Peter N C Cooke is Emeritus Professor at Buckingham University