What will 2017 be remembered for in relation to the automotive industry? Could it be the discussion on self-driving vehicles, hybrid drivetrains, or possibly the electric transportation options? Each of these was discussed over and over, but I believe it is something else. The technician shortage cliff that we are quickly approaching has been the main highlight of 2017 and has been the topic of discussion for several years now. We truly are in a situation where it’s become imperative to seek a positive resolution. Let’s look at some of the facts.
Is the need real?
In the recent Auto Care State of the Industry 2018 publication, it’s stated that by 2021, there will be 81 million vehicles on the road that are 16 years or older, and 25 million of those will be 25 years or older. In the same study, they determined that Vehicles in Operation (VIO) will increase by 10.4%. These numbers lead to an increased need for service technicians. The positive of these numbers is that the per bay sales will continue to grow. Another item that proves the need for more automotive technicians is the age demographics of today’s technician. In a recent ATMC survey, over 60% of those surveyed were over the age of 45 with the largest percentage being in the 55-64 age range. This very large demographic is getting ready to seriously consider retirement or leave the bay due to health issues. This demographic might move into parts sales, the service advisor position, or other less taxing positions within the industry as a result of age and health, so the technician shortage will certainly continue to grow.
But are those numbers accurate?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor, the demand for automotive technicians will rise by 7% from 2016 to 2026. In a recent report by the Tech Force Foundation, it was stated that the need for new technicians will reach 75,900 for the period between 2016 and 2026. This more than triples what previous studies have shown by the United States Bureau of Labor which projected the need will be 23,720 for the 2014 – 2024 period. The demand for diesel technicians is expected to reach 28,300 for the same period. Collision technician demand is projected to follow these same trends.
Is it just the skilled technician that is needed?
There is a need for skilled employees throughout the automotive industry, from the parts counter to the machine shop. I just recorded a podcast episode with Kyle Byrne, VP of Distribution for the Merrill Company, a major parts supplier in the five-state region around Spencer, Iowa, and he expressed the trouble they have in finding qualified machinists for their company-owned machine shops. Every major parts chain and warehouse distributor is continuously searching for employees to supply parts to the installer. I just recently did a job search on a major parts supplier’s website, and they had page after page of parts counter openings. And this was just one of the big four parts distributors. Some of you might not think that the parts counter positions should be grouped with skilled labor such as technicians, but I completely disagree. The repair industry continually discusses the increase in technology in today’s vehicle, and I know, as a technician, I am relying on my parts person to supply the correct part the first time. I believe the need for a skilled part person is even more important today because of continued advances in technology. Parts counter and machine shop positions are the support staff for the technician. Without them, the technician cannot perform their job, and everyone suffers.
Where to start?
In my discussions with many industry experts that have been a part of the Technician.Academy podcast series over the last year, one common thread could be found: education. I’m not just talking about post-secondary but also secondary and especially the education put forth by parents and grandparents of future technicians.
Secondary education is a common discussion topic among the many community college automotive instructors that I talk to. They are concerned that high school counselors do not explain the benefits of the skilled trades, such as those in the automotive field. Many instructors are saying that high school guidance counselors are guiding the talented students towards 4-year degrees. Some of these students would do very well in shop class or in the STEM program. In a lot of secondary education facilities, the shop/STEM program has been eliminated completely. Since this is not an option in so many of today’s facilities, the student will fall through the cracks. They enter the manufacturing industry, where they are comfortable and excel, which is good for the student but not for the automotive industry. Please don’t misunderstand. I have nothing against the manufacturing industry, but the automotive industry needs talented students also. If you know a high school counselor, talk to them about the industry. They may not understand what the true technician’s job description is today in comparison to ten years ago, so educate them on the technology that is incorporated in today’s vehicle and what is required to repair that vehicle.
Community College Recruitment
I have also heard from some industry leaders that community colleges need to be better about recruiting new talent. I fully understand that this is possibly a missed opportunity by the college due to many different circumstances. I also believe it is a result of there only being so many usable hours in a day. At a lot of the colleges I have dealt with, the instructors are solely responsible for recruiting students to the program. Many instructors are only on a ten-month contract and under-paid anyway. Then they are required to develop curriculum plans, lesson plans, record the paperwork to maintain NATEF certification for the program, and they are furthermore required to attain a specific number of continuing education hours to maintain certification. You might say they could recruit during their off time, but remember they still have students to teach and oversee in lab. Truth is, a lot of instructors don’t have the time to attend career days at the local high school or recruit students in other ways.
Now I ask: how many of you have donated your time to be a part of the local community college’s automotive programs advisory board? If you have not, then I highly suggest asking to be a part of it. You not only become a voice to help shape the future of the program but if you are a shop owner, then you have first-hand access to future technicians. One of them could be your own A level technician in the future. If asked to go to a high school career day, then you should go. You might enjoy it.
The Toughest Group to Educate
I personally think that the parents and/or grandparents of future technicians are the hardest to educate when it comes to the value of their son or daughter entering the automotive industry. If you have children, you will most likely understand this. We want what’s best for our children, and the automotive industry has been terrible at portraying itself in a positive light. It seems that once a month, another article appears about how a repair shop, body shop, or towing company has committed fraud against the customer. Then there are movies like Fast and Furious that influence our perception of the automotive industry, even though they are not realistic portrayals of the industry at all. So where is positive media from the industry to counteract the stigma of the greasy technician that is content with walking around in stained clothes and a rag hanging out of their back pocket?
Then, there is the pay conundrum. For students entering the industry, most shops are not paying even close to what a local manufacturer is, and the manufacturer doesn’t require you to have your own tools. I guarantee, if I did not know the changes that this industry has went through in the last 5–10 years, I would be less than encouraging if my child wanted to be in the automotive industry, especially the repair side. We need to change this stigma and promote the industry in a positive light that truly reflects the sophisticated occupation that vehicle repair has become. As a shop owner or technician, don’t hesitate to speak to community organizations about the positive aspects of the automotive industry.
Whose responsibility is it?
I have had the pleasure of talking to so many individuals that truly enjoy their positions in the industry, who are technicians, shop owners, college instructors, and executives with major aftermarket companies. They all believe in the industry and that it has a very bright future, but they are concerned with the upcoming talent shortfall. I believe we can recruit new talent, but it must start with the person you look at each day in the mirror. You’re a part of the industry, right? Have you volunteered to spend a couple hours a year talking to incoming high school freshman and highlight the positives of the industry? Oh, you’re too busy; they don’t want to hear from you; you don’t like working in the industry, so why would you want to help recruit new technicians; and on and on. Some of these are excuses, and the last one is a problem. If that last statement is you, then move on to another part of the industry because you are part of the problem.
We did not get here overnight, and we won’t solve it overnight, but standing back and waiting for someone else to fix it will never solve the problem. As always, I encourage your comments and discussions on this topic. Email or call me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-618-6101.