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  Guest Editorial

We Need Instructors Too!

Posted 2/2/2007
By Fred Hines

We all know about the technician shortage. But what about the shortage of automotive instructors?

The automotive service and repair industry is experiencing a technician shortage, and it is going to get worse. Primarily, the shortage is occurring for two reasons: technician retirement and a lack of young people entering the field. Age and/or health issues are causing many technicians to retire. Other younger techs may consider a career change because health problems have reduced their efficiency (working on vehicles can be taxing on a person's back and knees.) Typically, physical woes start to appear in the mid-40s and gradually get worse.

Why are young people not entering the field? First, the public's perception of the trade is negative. People inaccurately think that if you work in a dirty environment under vehicles, you will become dirty. "Dirty" work is not the path parents want their children to follow. Second, there are fewer places for young people to enter or explore the field. In the past, the vast majority of future technicians started in high school programs, but high school automotive service programs have been "closing shop" at a rapid pace.

The lack of an entry point affects enrollment in all follow-up programs, both public and private. As a result, we are also seeing postsecondary programs decrease in size or even close altogether.

High school programs are diminishing, mainly because of underfunding and the lack of teachers. Automotive service programs are among the most expensive to operate, and many administrators would much rather use the money for other career and technical education programs. Given the choice between automotive service and information technology programs, guess which one loses?

Lack of teachers is a root or contributing cause in most of the problems mentioned. It is also the primary factor in the low quality level of many high school programs.

Many times, an administrator searching for an automotive instructor will have to accept an individual without the appropriate background. If the teacher shortage issue isn't addressed, it will create more and more problems for all segments of the industry including independent shops, dealerships, and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) training programs.

Scholarships made available to students by various groups to attend college programs are admirable but miss the point. What good are scholarships if students don't have high school and community college automotive service and repair programs to attend? Consider this: If scholarships are given to 100 students, you are helping 100 students. If only part of the money is given to help teachers and programs, you are helping hundreds and possibly even thousands of students.

The Automotive Industry Planning Council (AIPC) has instituted an effort to address the teacher shortage and the resulting teacher quality issues. The AIPC has been in existence for 60 years as a liaison between the automotive industry and the education field.

AIPC believes the primary pool of potential teachers is in the 40- to 50-year-old age range of working technicians and service managers. At this point in their lives, they have valuable experience but their bodies are starting to fail. The trade-off between income and less physical strain is attractive to them. They have raised their families and can accept the lower pay of a new career. AIPC's plan for new and present teachers can be read in detail on the AIPC Web site, www.autoipc.org.

Fred Hines Fred Hines is chairman of the Automotive Industry Planning Council. He is owner and president of ATech Training Inc. He has 40 years of experience in technical training and has served as an instructor/department head for 17 years.


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