Automotive Careers: Attracting the Next GenerationPosted 10/11/2006
By Tom Nash
It's up to you to find, train and retain the techs who will ensure your success.
The shortage of qualified technicians in the automotive service field is well documented. The latest estimates range from 60,000 to 80,000 and are destined to climb if more young men and women are not lured into the industry. As today's technicians grow older and retire, they will also need to be replaced.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor's May 2005 report reveal a continuing decline of people employed in the automotive service profession. When compared to the same statistics from 2003 - just two years prior - the figures are ominous. They show a drop of more than 5 percent in the mechanical sector and nearly double that in collision. The number of bus and truck mechanics and diesel specialists has remained level, but should have shown an increase.
What's going to happen to our industry in the future if there are not enough highly qualified technicians to service the growing number of high-tech vehicles? And, most importantly, who's going to do anything to address this serious issue? The short answer is: you are.
As the end user of properly trained technicians, it's up to you to make sure that you have people with the skills you need to support your business and be successful. In the end, it's really up to you to ensure the supply of quality techs for your shop never runs out.
How Did It Happen?
A great number of reasons may have caused this shortage of young people willing, and wanting, to work on vehicles as a profession.
First, times have changed. Vehicles have become more technically complex and most owners seldom attempt "DIY" repairs. The result is a loss of exposure of the mechanical workings and structure of vehicles to the younger generation. Youngsters no longer pump gas or change tires at the local gas station, thereby gaining entry-level experience to entice them into the repair bays.
Secondly, working with your hands - and getting them dirty - doesn't appear to be an attractive job at first glance. Most high school students (and their parents) aren't aware of the opportunities for a career in automotive repair and service. School counselors and parents still tend to push most students toward college with mainstream jobs in mind. Vocational schools often have trouble getting enough interested students to sustain the program.
As a result, many in the industry feel that the problem is too few classes being offered and there are even fewer instructors. Many schools, faced with budgetary concerns, have been forced to eliminate vocational classes.
Whatever the reasons, the shortage of young people wanting to enter the industry is real. There are, however, real and viable answers to these concerns.
Local Automotive Education Programs
The most well-known institution for certifying automotive vocational programs is the National Automotive Technicians Educational Foundation (NATEF). The organization now certifies more than 2,000 programs to help vocational educators recruit, mentor and train tomorrow's technicians. NATEF is affiliated with the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), the major organization for certifying automotive technicians.
"A great deal of discussion has been going on in the industry about where we will find the entry-level technicians we need right now and in the immediate future," said Ronald H. Weiner, ASE/NATEF president. "I think it's important for the industry to recognize what we have that is working well, and NATEF certainly plays a key role in ensuring a qualified work force for the entire automotive industry."
To locate a NATEF-certified program in your area, visit www.natef.org.
In late 2001, the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) Education Foundation announced a new training initiative to support the recruitment and training of secondary and post-secondary students to prepare them for employment in the collision industry.
The program, PACE+ST3 (People Actively Creating Employability through Short-Term Task Training) provides students with competency-based collision repair training and enables the collision repair shop to hire high-quality interns who can perform entry-level tasks in a competent manner with little or no supervision.
After graduation, the student may be hired by the business in which they interned, or another business, or may continue their education in a specialized post-secondary collision repair training program.
More information about the program is available at www.i-car.com.
Universal Technical Institute
One of the most well-known national automotive training schools is Universal Technical Institute (UTI). The school has nine campus locations nationwide and offers programs for automotive (mechanical), diesel and collision training, among its wide-array of technical skills programs. Other programs include motorcycle, marine and the NASCAR Technical Institute. UTI also administers training programs for many automobile manufacturers.
UTI offers job placement for its students and cooperates with sponsoring repair facilities on a tuition reimbursement program. The T.R.I.P. (Tuition Reimbursement Incentive Program) initiative allows automotive repair facilities to employ the best students during their UTI schooling, in turn for monthly payments to reimburse the student after graduation. These payments are only made so long as the student continues to work for the shop. If the arrangement doesn't work out, the shop is no longer committed.
ASA and UTI recently teamed up to produce a brochure touting career opportunities in the automotive service and repair industry. Information regarding UTI is available at www.uticorp.com.
Many ASA members have helped create or taken advantage of existing student education programs. They shared their stories with AutoInc.:
Mentors @ Work
The company's service helps shop owners establish a mentoring/ apprenticeship system to provide the employees needed within the shop. Using one-on-one, on-site training and online tracking, the shop can attract, train and retain skilled employees.
Mello said, "The reason this program is attractive is that it is not labor intensive for the store owner/manager, who does not need to be involved except to read the reports from Mentors @ Work to check the progress, or to correct any internal issues. This program will revolutionize the industry problem of technician shortage because of its ability to deliver training opportunities 24/7, 365 days of the year and anyone auditing the trainee can check the progress." T.G.I.F. currently has two apprentices in the program and two more incoming.
The U.S. Department of Labor has already recognized this solution and has officially registered T.G.I.F. and three other San Jose area facilities as official apprenticeship shops. That program, Mello says, will officially launch this year and is capable of bringing a body tech to journeyman level in three years, and a painter in two years.
Mello adds, "The investment made by a collision repairer will have the potential to be returned after the first six months, and with government funding sources, the cost can be covered from the very beginning. If this industry quickly seizes this opportunity before the current journeymen/mentors retire, we have a chance to resolve the crisis before it's too late." More information on Mentors @ Work is available at www.mentorsatwork.com.
Although the Pro-Tech independent automotive service program at OSU-Okmulgee includes only mechanical repair technologies at this time, a separate collision repair curriculum is available. Guided by NATEF standards, the Pro-Tech curriculum is designed to provide a hands-on learning experience, which allows each student to understand the basic theories of automotive technology.
After each 7-1/2-week school session, the student will work in a sponsoring independent service facility and apply his or her new knowledge during a 7-1/2-week paid internship. This cycle of learning and applying skills continues over the course of two years, culminating in an associate in applied science degree. Pro-Tech classes also prepare students for ASE certification.
About 10 years ago, Joel Baxter of B&B Auto Repair in Bremerton, Wash., became involved with a training/placement program at a local technical training school. The Industry Technician Education Coalition program, dubbed ITEC, brings the school staff and advisory committee members together to place students with sponsoring shops.
The program came about, says Baxter, when about 60 shop owners - mostly ASA members - were unhappy with the quality of technicians coming out of the local schools. They decided to create a program to improve the skill level of beginning techs.
He points out, "Not all students in class can be ITEC graduates. Those without sponsor shops can get a degree but are not ITEC graduates. This allows colleges to have an open enrollment program and still have the highest standards for the mentored student." Baxter says the program has worked well for both students and shops. The success rate, he notes, is three to four times greater for interns with mentor shops than for a non-ITEC student. Approximately 260 students have been ITEC grads to this point and 54 have signed up for the coming year.
Three schools are currently participating in the ITEC program and there is strong interest from seven or eight other schools. Baxter said, "It takes a NATEF-certified program with a strong administration and an active advisory group. Having a strong ASA affiliate or chapter also really helps." An ITEC Web site will be launched soon.
The Road Ahead
The solution to ensuring a continued supply of skilled technicians does not end with attracting and recruiting new employees. Once you have a sufficient work force, fair wages, benefits, continuing training and job satisfaction are required to retain your staff.
The shortage of highly qualified technicians will not be eliminated quickly. But then, it didn't happen overnight. It may take several years of efforts by service facilities, associations, schools and governmental bureaus working together as well as a change in public perception to rectify the situation.
The time will be shortened if you begin immediately to address the situation of ensuring the success of your shop by becoming involved in local, regional or national programs to introduce the next generation of technicians to the automotive service profession. In doing so, you will be helping to solve the problem for the entire industry. It won't be easy. Nothing of lasting value ever is.
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