How can rental companies tackle the skills shortage?

09 July 2024

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Andy Wright, the new Executive Chair of Vital Power. Andy Wright, the new Executive Chair of Vital Power.

When we consider the big issues that do, or ultimately will, impact the ability of the rental industry to continue to grow and prosper, they are numerous and significant.

These issues range from the recent impact of soaring inflation on the rental business cost base, to the high interest rate policies needed to combat it, which in turn leads to the rising cost of financing our business.

We are dealing with the continued increase in the usage of technology, and in particular, the advent of AI and automation and its potential impact on jobs and our people, while at the same time recognizing the undoubted benefits that it can deliver, in the areas of efficiency and customer service.

And there is also the small matter of clean energy transition which is facing the industry now and for many years to come.

On top of all that, another critical issue that we are facing at this precise time, and this isn’t a transient problem that will begin to fix itself over time, is the shortage of skilled people in critical trades that we need in order to be able to operate successfully and to deliver great service to our customers.

Finding great people is always an issue for any business but finding great people with the right attitude and skills in certain key roles is becoming a business continuity risk and it’s getting worse, and this worsening will continue unless we take action to change it.

A perfect storm

So, what’s causing this skill shortage problem in the first place?

It seems to me that there isn’t just a single answer to this question, rather a number of contributory factors that are all combining, to create a perfect storm for the industry.

One factor is undoubtedly the impact of the ‘baby boomer’ generation reaching an age (late 50s/early to mid 60s) where retirement is either necessary (poor health) or desirable (lifestyle) and this exodus of highly experienced and skilled workers is creating a concerning void.

The pandemic has also contributed to people reappraising their lives and deciding that ‘there’s more to life than work’.

This issue is only going to get worse given the diminishing numbers of younger people seeking to pursue careers in skilled trades in the rental industry, and in the UK, Brexit continues to play a part, as demand for key roles has outstripped supply, which has increased costs for rental business owners as they are having to compete to hold onto employees who are being tempted by higher salaries elsewhere.

Meeting the challenge head on

The challenge remains as to what to do about this situation, given its potential to threaten the very existence of businesses, if we can’t attract enough people to the industry to fill our vacant roles.

Part of the answer has to be to grow our own through the introduction of high-quality apprenticeship schemes.

That said, the problem with the current situation, certainly in the UK, is that too often rental businesses don’t put the effort into developing their own schemes and are content to wait until the businesses who are trying to bring talent into the industry and who run their own schemes, graduate their apprentices and then come and ‘poach’ newly qualified skilled people with the promise of huge salaries.

This doesn’t fundamentally help the chronic shortage of skilled trades because it doesn’t address the fact that we need to greatly increase numbers at the front end of the age spectrum, not merely stand still or decline the overall pool of resources less slowly.

Scheme-led solutions

In order to begin to fix this issue, every business in the industry should run their own schemes and add to the total talent pool, not take the easy route and cherry pick the hard work of others.

All of that said, we need to make the roles that we are seeking to fill more enticing by ensuring that we are reflecting the value of the roles in the packages that we offer in terms of salaries and benefits, flexibility, adoption of technology and overall working environment.

The seismic transformation that’s underway in terms of moving toward becoming a net zero industry will also provide significant opportunities to create exciting roles for people to aspire to, that should help to create new career paths that are attractive to all types of people in the future.

This is a great industry that has transformed the lives of many who have worked in it, myself included, and it will continue to be a great industry if we address these issues collectively as a sector and not pursue our own agenda at the expense of the bigger picture.

This article is featured in the June 2024 edition of International Rental News. 


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Ollie Hodges Publisher Tel: +44 (0)1892 786253 E-mail: [email protected]
Lewis Tyler
Lewis Tyler Editor Tel: 44 (0)1892 786285 E-mail: [email protected]