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Opinion

R. L. Polk & Co.’s Ask the Industry: Readers Respond

Two weeks ago, in our last “Ask the Industry” column, we talked about the impending tech shortage that seems to be making waves around this industry as of late. As we’ve highlighted several times before in these pages, the article intended to point out that perhaps it’s not all about the numbers, but about helping technicians and shop owners do their jobs better. We asked you, our readers, to share with us any aftermarket-specific technician recruitment or training initiatives that you know of.

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by Amy Antenora
Editor, aftermarketNews.com

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AKRON, OHIO — Two weeks ago, in our last “Ask the Industry” column, we talked about the impending tech shortage that seems to be making waves around this industry as of late.

Recent reports indicate that the automotive industry is not keeping up with the job growth expected to take place over the next decade in the automotive repair segment. According to a recent article in our sister publication Counterman magazine, the automotive technician segment is expected to grow approximately 12.4 percent in the next ten years. So those 800,000 technician jobs that are currently filled may not be enough come 2016, taking into account the impending retirement of many baby boomers. But this is all looking ahead – expecting the worst.

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To get an idea of what the situation looks like today, we interviewed four random shop owners/ managers from across the country to get a firsthand feel for any issues in their areas when it comes to finding and retaining qualified technicians. We asked them if they have a problem finding qualified techs and where they go when they are looking to hire. (To read this column, click here .)

As we’ve highlighted several times before in these pages, the article intended to point out that perhaps it’s not all about the numbers, but about helping technicians and shop owners do their jobs better.

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Most of the articles and press releases we see today about initiatives to recruit and train the industry’s next generation of technicians are far too often coming from the OE’s. We asked you, our readers, to share with us any aftermarket-specific technician recruitment or training initiatives that you know of. Many thanks to those of you who responded to our request. Here is the feedback we received.

Barbara Clark, of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, wrote to share with us the noble efforts of one man – Steve Hollein, general manager of Felt Auto Parts in Ogden, UT. While we’ve written about Steve in these pages before, it doesn’t hurt to do so again. Hollein is a one-man band when it comes to taking on the effort to educate parents, guidance counselors and students about the potential for a great career in the aftermarket and his efforts are to be applauded.

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As Clark writes, “[Steve] is a member of the AAIA Education Committee and one of the most dedicated members we have in getting kids interested in the aftermarket. He has made it his mission to visit all of the high schools and middle schools in his area and the vo-tech centers – telling them about the scholarships available – mostly the Global Automotive Aftermarket Scholarships. One of the students he sponsored for the GAAS scholarships was the 1,000th scholarship winner in 2005 and we brought her to AAPEX and introduced her at Town Hall. … The aftermarket needs to clone this guy!”

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We also heard from Bill Sauer of Mobile Productivity Inc., who commented:

“I read with interest your editorial about technician shortages in the last aftermarketNews. I certainly agree with your comments, especially about the value of programs like AYES and partnering with tech schools and community colleges. To me, these are the best solutions for acquiring and retaining technicians. However, I take a little bit of issue with your statement of ‘This industry doesn’t do such a good job helping small shops learn how to run their businesses, etc.’ Being on the Board of Trustees for the Automotive Management Institute (AMI), there are many, many courses covering business management, tech retention, etc. The problem is getting the shop owner out of his business to attend these courses. There is success story, after success story, of those who were struggling and after attending AMI courses are now successful businesses. Even if one feels they can’t travel to a course, many of these topics are covered in AMI’s self-study courses. If you want, check out www.amionline.org.”

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During a recent visit with Mac McGovern, director of training for KYB, and Aaron Shaffer, KYB’s marketing manager, we had a detailed discussion about their new grass roots, industry-wide initiative called, “Get to the Tech.”

In our conversation, McGovern noted that the number of news reports out today indicating a current or impending tech shortage are doing a disservice to the industry. It is nearly impossible to determine whether a technician shortage actually exists. “In the shop, the sale has to happen twice,” said McGovern. “Techs need to be educated.

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“The real problem is not ‘having experienced techs’, the real problem is supporting the one’s we have, reducing the time it takes to become experienced and proficient thus attracting more good people that can be trained and supported,” said McGovern.

This is where “Get to the Tech” comes in, according to KYB. Through this new program, KYB hopes the industry will work together to create what McGovern described as “a proactive approach to automotive reform.” “Get to the Tech” would serve as a tool to market directly to technicians and help them to drive sales of automotive parts while also helping drivers take more seriously the need for many critical repairs that may be passed as not part of a simple maintenance routine. McGovern said the initiative is somewhat in line with what the industry is already doing with respect to the “Be Car Care Aware” campaign, however “Get to the Tech” would be an internal message, whereas “Be Car Care Aware” is external.

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“‘The sale must occur twice’ is a very important concept that the aftermarket fails to recognize,” said McGovern. “If the tech fails to identify, or isn’t able to justify a service or part replacement opportunity to the service counter, the sale will not even be offered to the motorist. The responsibility for ‘Get to the Tech’ falls on the shoulders of aftermarket vendors and distributors.”

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