Having just returned from VISION Hi-Tech 2018. I have to commend Shari Hamilton and her team for organizing the training opportunity. While I was there, I attended some outstanding training courses along with both keynote presentations. Sunday’s keynote hosted by Carm Capriotto and five other industry leaders was extremely enlightening. After listening to the presentation intently and then talking with several educators throughout the conference, I was reminded of the following article that a friend of mine, Rick Escalambre, wrote several years ago. I think it still holds true today. As you read this, remember some of the numbers have changed, but I believe the overall context is still prevalent today.
“Disjointed!” by Rick Escalambre
Statistics show the automotive aftermarket is a $300 billion-plus annual industry. If you factor in new and used car sales this number could easily reach a staggering $400 billion annually. The automotive industry has contributed to our economy and lifestyle through recessions, depressions, layoffs, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorism, and wars. Why does this industry continue to struggle in its attempts to improve its image and gain the respect it deserves and has earned?
The reason is, this industry is disjointed. Webster’s Dictionary defines disjointed as: dismembered, disconnected, without unity or coherence. The automotive industry certainly is disconnected without an enviable public image and without unity or coherence. If you look at the number of automotive organizations operating throughout the nation, the only thing they have in common is that they represent small and different factions of the automotive industry. Each organization operates with good intentions but small groups without strong cohesion do not provide the articulation, continuity, or strength in numbers necessary to implement change.
Another major problem is that anyone who wants to perform car repairs can! The only legal requirements are that they register themselves as a business and obtain an ARD License from the Department of Consumer Affairs. There are no industry technical standards they must meet to perform automotive repair. If the industry does not set standards that reflect the technical competence required to service and repair today’s vehicles, our commitment to customer service will continue to be suspect. The automotive consumer will continue to look at us through jaundiced eyes. Should this industry consider mandatory licensing? Absolutely! If this were accomplished, the automotive repair industry would be recognized as a profession, not a disjointed group of people, with vastly disparate skill levels, who repair vehicles. The various weak trade associations now competing for our membership, however, cannot effectively self-regulate or oversee technician licensing.
Throughout California, you hear each major manufacturer touting their own training program and pushing NATEF and AYES. Once again, we see a disjointed industry. The OEM manufacturers push NATEF and AYES, thinking that their promise of vehicle, component, and service manual donations are enough incentive to entice educational institutions to become certified. Unfortunately, vehicles and components do not pay the bills. The cost of school certification programs can exceed the annual budget of many high schools and some community colleges. The questions I would ask institutions who are now certified is; has NATEF brought your school the industry support, vehicles, components, etc., you envisioned? If an institution is not affiliated with a major manufacturer, are donations actually that difficult obtain? Here is a quote from an executive from a major manufacturer, “Over the last few years XYZ has changed regarding who will receive donated vehicles. At the same time, we have fewer vehicles to donate. Anyway, at this time XYZ has only been donating vehicles to _______ schools and AYES schools. If you talk to these schools they will tell you they are not getting enough donations. In short, there are not enough donations to go around.” Why should my school go through the cost and headaches necessary to become certified if the benefits aren’t there?
In education, often we think we have strength in numbers but this is not the case. The people with the power, money, and clout, such as automobile manufacturers, parts manufacturers, etc. do not spend their time or money working together as a unified body which could provide real hope of saving vocational education in our state. Training is a very small part of each manufacturer’s budget and for the industry as a whole. If the industry offered politicians the kind of financial support needed to get their attention, do you think they would be killing off vocational education? The people who set policy in Sacramento continue killing off vocational education because they do not seem to see the need for it. Perhaps they should consult the Department of Labor’s Employment Outlook Handbook and note the clearly documented occupational growth projections. Then perhaps, with employability factored into their decisions, they might see long-term career education (which is part of their mandate) as a necessity rather than use vocational programs as budget-cutting targets!
Automotive programs demand a positive image and higher visibility! Many times I have heard the words, “my kid is going to college” but seldom that they will major in automotive technology. The last time I checked, there were seventy-five community colleges with automotive programs, many of which offer an AS Degrees in Automotive Technology. There are private schools that also offer an AS Degrees through partnerships with accredited colleges. Politicians and parents of potential students need to understand that automotive technology can be a viable career path and that we facing a major shortage of qualified technicians. If we don’t address this problem, people will have to wait longer and pay considerably more to get their car serviced or repaired. This will make for a very unhappy group of consumers. Unfortunately, the automotive repair shop will catch the wrath of consumer frustrations and anger, not the politicians who should have recognized this problem and attempted to save vocational education. We, as an industry, must immediately initiate a marketing campaign to educate the consumer. This should be vigorously promoted by trade associations, new car dealerships, mass merchandisers, independent repair shops, and at high schools, community colleges, and private training institutions.
Do we also need to educate the automotive consumer we service? The automotive consumer is anyone who operates a motor vehicle; be they a politician, doctor, lawyer, police officer, housewife, etc. What is one of the best ways to ruin the average person’s day? For most people, it’s to have a problem with their car. This is because we, as a society, are so heavily dependent on the motor vehicle. Every consumer depends daily on their vehicle to get them through a day of work, to a job interview, to school, to a vacation resort, through a business trip, to a medical emergency, or any number of activities. In most cases, people who support and use mass transportation must still drive their car to the train, bus, or rapid transit station. The industry simply must do a better job of educating people about the career opportunities awaiting their sons or daughters and the important role the automotive industry plays in everyone’s daily routine.
The idea of this editorial is not to place blame on any one group. My intent is to “drop a mirror” in front of everyone associated with this industry with the hope we might ask, “what can I do to help?” Which organization(s) should I join that will represent and promote the automotive service industry as a united group of professionals, committed to upgrading the image, pay, and the prestige of the automotive repair technician?
Until our industry does this, we will continue to be the Rodney Dangerfields of the world, a body of individuals who can’t get any respect!
Rick wrote this article 15 years ago and yet many of his points are still true today. So I ask: are we, as an industry, still disjointed? Why or why not? I do believe there are more people working towards removing the disjointed sections of the industry today than ever before, and I believe VISION is a shining symbol to that. Ask yourself: are you going to be part of the solution or resolve to stay the same and carry on as usual? As always, I encourage your comments. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 812-618-6101. Rick was also a Technician.Academy podcast guest in 2017. If you would like to tune into his episode, click here.