And Now No Staff

After last month once again dealing with poor rates and trying to elaborate a little on how things could be improved, I have had one or two encouraging conversations with work providers, but as yet we have not seen any £ signs. Despite some criticism I still hold the view that anybody arriving from another world would never know that there are six or seven groups of people supposed to be looking after us and are still doing nothing.

After discussing the poor rate of remuneration, another situation has now arisen which in many ways is far more serious, and that is the unavailability of staff willing to work in the Breakdown and Recovery Industry.

I have recently had first-hand experience of this when I had three members of staff go off on longish-term sick and, despite spending hundreds of pounds on advertising, I got absolutely no response, even before I mentioned the poor rate of pay. Checking our records, when we last advertised for Breakdown staff in 2006 we had 44 applicants for one job and were, quite frankly, spoilt for choice before we selected somebody who has stayed with us ever since. The need for a Driver’s CPCC does not help as in past years Breakdown staff would come from Workshop staff fed up with fitting the likes of brake pipes to old cars, etc.

But now the smooth transition of a day or two on the road as a taster is gone, reinforcing the point that Roadside Assistance and Local Recovery should never have been in the CPCC Mode (main work not driving, etc.)

So what, I ask, is the real reason for people not wanting to work in our Industry. It is undoubtedly the money that we have to play with and also, by and large, the job is vast and varied.

But I think the real answer came when I was talking to a friend of mine who is the Senior Orthopaedic Surgeon at a large hospital and who is also involved with the British Medical Council. He told me they put out a comprehensive questionnaire to 20,000 trainee doctors. The questions were vast and various: he did not go into too much detail but he did challenge me to guess the answer to the following question. “What do you think will be the worst job you will have to do when you are a qualified doctor?”

He went on to explain that he expected some of the answers to be telling people they are going to die; or have cancer; or their child is going to die. But no: the universal answer to this question was: “Having to work weekends.”

I was so taken aback I spilled my fish and chips; and then I thought, what chance do we stand when these are people who will earn £40,000 to £100,000 a year, when my staff are lucky to earn around £25,000.

So the reason we cannot get any staff is undoubtedly people do not want to work nights and weekends. I think nights after 10 o’clock in particular are a real cause for concern. I am told, hopefully accurately, that the AA and RAC have no trouble getting patrols because they can go to bed each night. But worse news for us is the big trend in society of people not putting job satisfaction first before other things like short working week and too much time off and not to mention that work must be sitting at a computer terminal.

I love to go back and re-visit the old times, but in those days people had a passion for the job which I think still remains with many of us but is definitely disappearing with the new generation. Just like the old GP who would get up in the middle of the night and go to an ill patient living miles away and then going back to bed.

Some months ago I remember seeing an initiative by ERRI and, I think, some Government Departments to try to get more people into our Industry. It would be touch and go whether America lands a man on Mars before we can attract new staff to help with our work. Fifteen years ago our Breakdown staff were earning one-and-a-half to twice what a mechanic was getting in a Main Dealer. So that was quite an incentive to do the job: we all know now it is the other way round.

I don’t want to go on like a cracked record but before we can start to get people we are going to have to be paid the rate to allow us to correctly remunerate people working unsociable hours.

I have not yet mentioned the working conditions, which however good they are now at 3 a.m. it will never be as good as a doctor attending a patient in an upstairs bedroom of a centrally heated house.

So, like last month’s explanation of rates, this one is well out of our hands and back in the hands of work providers. If they want us to be present looking after their members, not next week or the week after but in the future, they are going to have to provide some sort of contribution to the future or for many Operators there won’t be one.

Fred Henderson
September, 2015