Almost everywhere that you find a group of automotive service professionals, you will also find a discussion of how there are not enough new folks entering the industry. This is an area I have been interested in and involved with for decades. Rather than provide a list of reasons why this is happening, I want to focus on what you can do for your business to change your shop’s employment future. But, be forewarned that you may not like some of the answers, because they require work that is not traditionally in your job description.
Not Attracting Enough Young People to the Industry
Here is a fun solution to this problem. Get out of your shop and go talk to a group of middle school kids or, even more fun, grade school kids. Don’t go crazy showing them all the technical parts of the job; rather, show them cars. Almost all kids love cars. Show them the types of cars that will need technicians to work on them when they grow up. Tell them about the kinds of schooling they will need. Ask them if they like to work with their hands and their minds together to complete tasks. And, do not leave out the girls. Most importantly, show them that the image of a dirty mechanic is wrong. Most of the time, 15 minutes is what you get, but the questions from the kids are priceless.
To quote a young woman in the STEM program at my city’s high school, when she was asked why she had not considered entering the automotive industry to utilize her skills, she said, “Because nobody ever came and talked to us about it.” I work with them all the time, so don’t assume they connect the dots. For all I know, the kids think I sell cars. You have to be the evangelist in these cases.
These Kids Aren’t Prepared When They Get Out of Vocational School
I have a one-word response to that: Duh! Please think about the vertical knowledge base to take kids from “cars are cool” to “I can repair one as a professional.” Imagine if you had to start over and learn everything from scratch. If you want to have great technicians in the future, you need to help them as they are being created. With changes in the ASE education foundation (formerly NATEF), school requirements that are now applicable to all certified programs students are taking a deeper dive into electrical, maintenance and light repair with less depth in engine, transmission and drivetrain repair.
The industry needs techs who can come to work with these skills so that they can generate revenue for themselves and the shop. Schools cannot provide students with enough repetition to be “seasoned” when they graduate. This is where you can connect with a potential new technician and make him/her part of your team performing high-repetition work. You have to go into this with the knowledge that you may not retain this student. This is one of those answers I said you would not like.
Kids Don’t Want to Pay Their Dues
The fact is, they can’t afford to, and the values and experience that we had coming into the industry, often 30 or more years ago, are just not relevant anymore. The days are gone of slapping a broom, an oil filter and fast food money in the hands of a Vo-tech graduate who is in debt for school and tools. They won’t want to stay and, the fact is, they do not stay. We lose half of them by their second year. If all they could do were these tasks, why would we want them to stay?
The primary reason for leaving is that we have not learned how to “onboard” new technicians and make them productive faster. We are not the greatest at communicating expectations or setting standard procedures that can be easily followed. One additional sobering reality is that, as a society, we are much less likely to make a career out of one job. This puts more pressure on us to find ways to move techs from entry-level to proficient much faster and in a measureable and methodical way.
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with the thought leaders in this area for many months on a project that will put a road map on the career of a technician. By the summer, I expect we will be able to show the industry some solutions that might not be easy, but are definitely attainable and executable. Stay tuned.