I write this month’s column having just attended an elite technician event for one of the UK's major retail groups. The premise of the event is that top technicians from 10 brands compete in practical tests having already excelled in online tests organised by the IMI.
It was a fantastic occasion and a great demonstration of just how many extraordinarily talented people there are in our industry. These are the individuals that exemplify the skills and professionalism that the IMI was established to promote almost 100 years ago.
Back then the industry was going through similar challenges to those we are facing today. Automotive technology was advancing at an astonishing rate and it was recognised that the job of servicing, maintaining and repairing these sophisticated new machines was not the province of the untrained amateur – despite the odd blacksmith turning a hand to car maintenance as their chosen profession declined.
Knowing where things are heading today, and the sheer pace at which things are happening, I am comforted when I see the skills and talent that I witnessed at the event because I know that the participants will continue to train and acquire the knowledge and ability to handle everything that is coming by way of new products and technologies. But we owe it to these skilled and dedicated individuals to clearly differentiate them from less skilled, or even unskilled, practitioners.
I have written a lot in this column about the IMI’s campaign to achieve regulation of those working on high-voltage, electrified vehicle systems – which I am pleased to say is progressing well; yet I am also increasingly mindful of the equally challenging developments which will follow around autonomous systems.
At last month’s IMI Annual Dinner I had the chance to talk to BMW’s Dr Ian Robertson who was receiving his Honorary Fellowship having previously been the recipient of the Sue Brownson Award for Outstanding Leadership in Automotive. He was telling me about work that was currently going on with the development of Level 4 autonomous vehicles. These are cars that can handle most dynamic driving tasks, only requiring occasional driver intervention (Level 5 is fully autonomous).
Apparently it requires around 2.5 terabytes of data to enable an A380 Airbus to fly autonomously across the Atlantic, whereas 45 terabytes of data are required to equip a Level 4 autonomous car to handle routine driving tasks! Should anyone be in any doubt about the necessity for such cars to be serviced, maintained and repaired solely by fully accredited, licensed technicians, I believe that this fact alone should dispel such doubts.
There’s no question of anyone knowingly boarding an aircraft that has been maintained by uncertified technicians. It is absolutely clear that the same must apply to autonomous cars. The elite technicians I saw competing had been invested in by their employer but had also invested in themselves – showing dedication to ongoing learning and to staying abreast of new technology. In the future this should not be the exception but the rule. Our industry is going through a paradigm shift and the days of the ‘gifted amateur’ (and sometimes not so gifted) must surely be numbered. Ultimately this has to be a good thing – especially for the thousands of industry professionals the IMI counts as its members.