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How great would it be to know what the future holds? I personally think it’s a good thing to not know the future; we wouldn’t want to know some of that information. I have been in the industry thirty plus years and have seen the numerous changes that have occurred. Some of these changes are as simple as the way we roll up a window or should I say the way we control the window’s movement, which on today’s newer model vehicles is drastically different to diagnose than thirty years ago or even ten years ago.

In-Class Training
I have recently finished the spring 2017 semester of delivering Technician.Academy DSO training to six different community college automotive programs. In looking back at each location and the students that were in attendance, I am encouraged that there truly are some talented individuals getting ready to enter the automotive repair field if they will stay in it. So if our automotive programs are providing quality applicants, why are we still experiencing a technician shortage? The average number of students between the six locations was thirteen per class and, according to recent information, on average 40% of the students will enter the automotive repair field. Real numbers for these six locations will produce thirty-one individuals entering the automotive field. Keep in mind, I only visited six out of the 2,300 NATEF certified programs in the US.

Big Picture
Let’s do some calculations based solely on known facts. First, using the average of thirteen graduating students in each of the 2,300 NATEF certified facilities, that is 30,000 students per year graduating from an automotive program. Having spoken with several college automotive instructors, they tell me that about 40% of their graduating students actually enter the field as technicians. Recently, I had the fortune to attend Chris Chesney’s Keynote presentation at the VISION conference in Kansas City. In Chesney’s presentation, he stated that 60% of new technicians will leave the industry in the first year. So, using the number of 30,000 graduating students and only 40% enter the field that means 12,000 new repair employees per year. But now if we factor in the number that Chesney provided that on average 60% leave the field after the first year, that would reduce the number of new technicians to 4,800 after the first year.  

Tech Level A
Obviously new groups of technicians are not ready for the tech A jobs. Nearly 40% of the technicians in the field are over 55 years old, and these are by majority the tech A’s in the shop. In the same presentation, Chesney pointed out that 25% of the skilled technician workforce leaves the industry yearly. Using the numbers from the chart below provided by the United States Bureau of labor statistics–which shows 647,380 in 2016 employed as technicians and mechanics–if 25% leave in 2017, that is a reduction of 161,845 individuals. So even if every one of the students entered the field and were at an amazing level in their ability, there would not be enough to fill the void created by attrition due to retirement and those just leaving the industry.

 

Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016

49-3023 Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics

Diagnose, adjust, repair, or overhaul automotive vehicles. Excludes “Automotive Body and Related Repairers” (49-3021), “Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists” (49-3031), and “Electronic Equipment Installers and Repairers, Motor Vehicles” (49-2096).

National estimates for this occupation:

Employment estimate and mean wage estimates for this occupation:

Employment (1)

Employment

RSE (3)

Mean hourly

wage

Mean annual

wage (2)

Wage RSE (3)
647,380 0.7 % $19.90 $41,400 0.3 %

Cite: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes493023.htm#nat

Talent
I was pleasantly surprised at the level some of these students were at and their abilities to discuss the information I presented. The facilities that I presented at provide a great foundation for the students to build from. I always ask the class before I start the presentation “Why are you in an automotive program?”. For the last four years, the answers to this question have remained constant. Let’s look at the top three answers from least popular to most popular as far as number of students that answer. The fewest number of students gave this answer: my family has always been in the repair business, and I grew up in it. I do not believe this is a good answer because in many cases that individual is settling. This group of students could attribute to part of the 60% that leave after the first year though I do not believe they encompass the entire 60%. The second largest group of students answered that they like working with their hands and being able to take things apart and then put it back together. I believe this is the core group of students that stay in the industry. Why do I say that? Because as I continue with the training, this is the group of students that become most involved with it and are answering the questions I pose. They truly enjoy learning a possibly new diagnostic method or a way to make their job easier. Now running very close in numbers with the last group of students I spoke about is the ones that say they choose the field for the money. I think this is the group that makes up the remainder of students that leave in the first year. I tell them right up front that yes, they can make good money in this industry but not starting out and not without continuing their education every year.

Where Do We Lose Them?
Let’s compare the automotive technician to an occupation that requires a similar skill set, electricians (see chart below). The first thing that I see is median annual wage for the electrician is $15,250 more per year. I also want to consider the expenses an electrician has for tools if he works for an employer. This is nothing compared to a conservative estimate of 15,000 dollars for the automotive technician. Both occupations have a similar rise in employment, with the electrician being slightly higher. This is just a comparison; I am in no way saying they all leave to become electricians. In talking again to the many automotive instructors I have the pleasure of knowing, they believe manufacturing, along with other skilled occupations such as plumbing, pipe fitting, boiler making, and carpentry, is where technicians that leave the automotive field go.

 

Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016
47-2111 Electricians

Install, maintain, and repair electrical wiring, equipment, and fixtures. Ensure that work is in accordance with relevant codes. May install or service street lights, intercom systems, or electrical control systems. Excludes “Security and Fire Alarm Systems Installers” (49-2098)

National estimates for this occupation:

Employment estimate and mean wage estimates for this occupation:

Employment (1)

Employment

RSE (3)

Mean hourly

wage

Mean annual

wage (2)

Wage RSE (3)
607,120 0.8 % $27.24 $56,650 0.5 %

Cite: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes472111.htm

How to Keep and Increase the Numbers?
I have many ideas concerning this, but the number one thing I believe can solve the problem is that you and I must promote the industry in a positive light. This industry and the type of work required has drastically changed in the last ten years. I recently heard a recording from Scott Brown, the mind behind IATN, where he said that the 2016 Ford F150 had one hundred million lines of programing code that keeps it operating. If nothing else, this should tell us that the automotive industry has changed and will continue to change. So, it only stands to reason that we must change the way we recruit new talent. We need to educate prospects and their parents during their high school years. They need to be made aware of the technology involved in today’s vehicle and the job opportunities that it will create. I also think to compete for the most talented people we need to offer a competitive compensation rate. Yes, this means changing the way technicians are paid. I am not sure where I heard this, but the statement was: we are working with a thirty-five-year-old business model that is thirty years out of date. I know shop owners are going to complain that you cannot afford to pay the techs more, but I say if you plan on being successful, then you need to. I will discuss this in future articles. I want your ideas on how we (the industry) can change the future. Email me at richard.young@technician.academy with your ideas or call 812-618-6101, and we can discuss them.

This month’s featured podcast, Episode #12 with Mike Davidson, dives further into the importance of creating a positive perception of the automotive industry and encourages technicians to take pride in their jobs and the industry overall. Tune in now to this informational podcast by clicking here.