I keep hearing about that greatest challenge in the aftermarket, a technician shortage. Recently instead of listening to the ‘woe is me’ story, I asked, ‘How are we going to fix it?’ and no surprise, there were great answers to this question.
The top solutions to the tech shortage are not new, but they will require action and if we do nothing to close the gap we have no one to blame but ourselves. We are hurting on a few different fronts mainly with the lack of young people enrolling in automotive CTE programs (Career and Technical Education) at both high-school and college levels, and the poaching of our technicians from other industries that are also desperately in need of technicians, including: diesel, fleet, government, and forklift among others.
The fix is not an easy task and will require a level of volunteerism as we have never seen before in our industry. If you have ever searched for a technician, and you do not want to be in that position again, then let that feeling drive your decision to change.
Shop owners must understand that their future and the future of our industry is to involve our young people into appreciating the automotive world. There is a lot of momentum that makes the automotive world attractive today. Simply put, we are driving a computer-controlled machine that is connected to the world which can be an attractive talking point to young people who want to work with their hands and computers.
So, is it enough to tell the kids, “Hey would you like to work on high tech computer-controlled cars?” Maybe not. Who we need to tell are their parents. That does not mean that we stop talking to the kids and hope that they tell their parents, instead we need to talk to our middle school parents, counselors, principals and superintendents. We do this by volunteering for advisory committees, speaking at career days, talking to the rotary clubs, chambers and the many other local volunteer service groups in your community. If we do not sell/recruit our industry at the middle school and parental level, we miss our chance when career paths start to form.
Do not wait for an invite, walk into a high school and ask about their automotive program and ask to be involved; same for college (post-secondary). Most need advisory board members, especially independents to get involved. They need your support to help grow their program and engage their students.
We have a vibrant auto care industry with 535,508 registered business, and 278 million registered motor vehicles. The auto care industry reached $368 billon in 2016 and it is projected that vehicles in operation will increase by 10.4% by 2021. The auto care industry employs 4.6 million professionals. Speaking of vibrant and opportunistic.
Here are some important elements of your contribution that goes beyond the schooling if we are to fix our tech shortage.
- Start holding Automotive STEM classes for middle schoolers in your shop. They will be so impressed to learn about the “rolling computer”.
- Create a summer boot camp for students who want to learn about the automotive industry.
- Get involved in high school and post-secondary education. You can join an advisory board and simply ask what they need and then set out to help fulfill those needs.
- Develop a comprehensive apprentice program – they are available with government help.
- Improve the integration of our young people into the industry.
For much of our image and career pathing problems, we need to look internally, maybe even research why entry technicians left the industry. Check your business culture, work environment, commitment to training, pay and benefits, tooling, image, marketing, etc. There is a groundswell from independent shop owners that are making improvements to their businesses in the form of margin and labor rate improvements and managing their key performance numbers. They realize that a stronger bottom line and improved business culture will help negate the technician shortage because they can retain and recruit talent from a stronger position.
If we get involved and talk up our exciting trade the message will start to be discussed at the dinner table. Let us be proud of the industry we earn our living with, where technology is ruling every new advancement and will require talented, computer ‘nerds’ to repair today and tomorrows future transportation needs. Welcome the parents, kids and teachers to your place and share the future.