Editor’s Note: The following article, which appears in the Thursday, Feb. 16 edition of USA TODAY, is one of many recent media reports reinforcing to the general public the idea that there is a dire shortage of technicians in the industry today. This article, and others, recognizes the work of AYES and other OE-supported technician recruitment initiatives while the aftermarket is rarely represented in these types of initiatives. In two recent articles, aftermarketNews posed the question of whether a technician shortage truly exists, or if it’s simply a matter of finding ‘qualified’ technicians. To read more on this topic, please read our last two “Ask the Industry” columns, which can be accessed here:
Auto Repair Programs Crank Up Recruitment
From USA TODAY
CHICAGO — Facing a shortage of auto technicians — people formerly known as mechanics — the auto industry and the federal government are pumping money into education programs aimed at attracting high school students to the jobs.
Kristina Pszotka, 18, is just the kind of student the programs are hoping to attract. She’s enrolled in the Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES) program at a suburban high school.
She was one of eight students invited by South Korean automaker Hyundai to tour the Chicago Auto Show last week, getting first-class access to some of the cars they could be working on in the future.
Hyundai and other automakers have a stake in that future, because satisfaction with car servicing and repair work is closely tied with how customers view car brands. If a repair is done easily, quickly and cheaply, drivers have a better view of their car — and the automaker — than if it takes multiple times to get the job done correctly.
But attracting qualified young people to the trade is becoming tougher.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the auto industry will need 35,000 new technicians every year through 2010. Automotive Retailing Today, a coalition of automakers and retailers, says there are 37,000 vacant technician positions now.
Resistance from educators is one of the biggest problems facing technician education, says Alan Starling, chairman of Auto Retailing Today. “The negative perception of our industry is hurting us. We’ve got to turn that around,” he says.
“The business of being an auto mechanic has been one of those things that the special-needs kids have been shuffled into,” says Michael Calkins, manager of approved auto repair for AAA. “It’s been depicted as a dirty, greasy kind of job. The truth today is it’s a very high-tech, good-paying job.”
Pszotka says her guidance counselor tried to sway her away from the AYES program. Her dad, a mechanic and her mom were resistant, too, she says.
“People telling me I couldn’t do it made me want to do it even more,” says Pszotka of Glen Ellyn, IL, who says she remembers as a kid hanging around her dad while he was working in the garage, handing him wrenches and other tools. “It became a challenge, and now it’s something I really want to do.”
The AYES program, originally funded by 14 automakers, recently received a $2.2 million grant from the federal government to expand. It currently is in 375 schools in 45 states.
Through the program, high school students spend a couple of years determining if this is the career path for them. It’s free except for the cost of some books and tools.
“It’s not like you have to spend thousands of dollars to figure out if this is what you want to do,” says Tony Ambrose, 18, of Downers Grove, IL. He says few of his peers are interested in what he does when he leaves his hometown high school midway through the day to head off to the Technology Center of DuPage in Addison, IL. “Nobody wants to know how things work.”
Ambrose says he’s always tinkered with engines, building 5-horsepower go-karts with his buddies in the fifth grade.
Now in his second year in the program, Ambrose has been learning about diagnostics, brakes and suspension systems. His knowledge helped him work on his first car, a 1990 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe, which he bought for $300 and sold for $600.
For those who figure out how cars work and how to keep them running, the pay is solid. Technicians earn $30,000 to $60,000 in metro areas, and master technicians can make $70,000, according to AYES.
“These are good jobs and high-paying jobs,” says Calkins.
“There is a demand and a shortage. People who come out of school have jobs waiting for them.”
Adds Starling: “It’s really ironic, given the news you’ve been reading about the manufacturers. Their jobs seem to be going the other way.”
Copyright 2006 USA TODAY. All Rights Reserved.
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