You have heard from me, Andrew Markel and every other pundit in the automotive media that there is a looming technician shortage facing our industry. This is NOT breaking news!
According to the latest Transportation Technician Supply and Demand report, released recently by TechForce Foundation, the supply of new-entrant technicians from automotive post-secondary education programs in the U.S. dropped last year 11.8%, to 28,866.
You’ve heard the numbers before (and you can read the full report at ShopOwnerMag.com), but in a nutshell, fewer entry-level techs are graduating from post-secondary programs at a time when technicians are needed more than ever.
According to some automotive instructors I’ve spoken with, however, the pendulum may be swinging back into positive territory. Dale McCraw, automotive instructor at Madison Career & Technical Center, Madison, MS, says, “In the past, I’ve had kids tell me, ‘I wanted to take your class, but the counselor wouldn’t let me,’ or I’ve had girls say ‘My parents wouldn’t let me.’ And, I still occasionally hear that, but we’ve come light years from the stigma of being a grease monkey – people realize these kids can make good money in this career.”
McCraw, the December finalist in the B’laster Products “Instructor of the Year” program with our sister brand Tomorrow’s Technician, says there’s an obvious effort to improve the image of our industry so that students are eager to take automotive classes.
Here’s the hidden problem as I see it – who’s going to teach those kids?
McCraw, like nearly every other dedicated instructor I’ve spoken with, does amazing work in the classroom and shop settings. He’s a mentor to his students. He’s ensuring our industry’s continued succes.
He’s also contemplating retirement. And, when he goes, his departure will leave a huge void in Madison and, by extension, everywere else.
McCraw says the concept of leaving is a tough decision to rationalize. “To be honest. I would continue teaching because I’m in good health.”
“Here’s the hidden problem as I see it – who’s going to teach those kids?“
McCraw (and many others like him) point to the challenges they face in the classroom each day. Like shop owners and technicians, he has to keep up with technology advances. He has to maintain his testing standards. Unlike everyone else, he needs to manage a potentially volatile classroom of 15- to 18-year-olds.
“My classroom is structured around learning how to be a professional, how to be accountable for your actions, and how to be safe,” McCraw says. “I know this may be some students’ best two hours of every day, so we try to have a classroom they love to come to.”
McCraw says his experience helps him maintain balance, but wonders what’s next. Who’s on deck?
“We do a lot more than just teach,” he says. “We have a working shop, we have inventory. I do my own maintenance on lifts and machines; I’m responsible for the safety of students. And, then there’s all the required paperwork…”
As an industry, I’m proud of what we’re doing to convince young people that automotive service is a noble career to pursue. The future is truly exciting.
Now, what can we do about the other, often overlooked factor in the equation, and develop more skilled, passionate, dedicated teachers? Without them, where will we be?