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R. L. Polk & Co.’s Ask the Industry Talks to Shop Owners About the Impending Tech Shortage

We’ve all seen the articles, research and projections predicting a mass exodus of workers as the “Baby Boomers” near retirement age. These numbers have many in the automotive industry nervous due to its potential impacts on the already problematic technician shortage. While the numbers don’t lie, we wanted to find out just how dire the situation is. Calling random shop owners across the country, we found that none of them seemed particularly concerned. Perhaps it’s not that they aren’t concerned per se, but have no choice but to continue to plow ahead and pray it all works out for the best.

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AKRON, OHIO — We’ve all seen the articles, research and projections predicting a mass exodus of workers as the “Baby Boomers” near retirement age. These numbers have many in the automotive industry nervous due to its potential impacts on the already problematic technician shortage. While the numbers don’t lie, we wanted to find out just how dire the situation is. Calling random shop owners across the country, we found that none of them seemed particularly concerned. Perhaps it’s not that they aren’t concerned per se, but have no choice but to continue to plow ahead and pray it all works out for the best.

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Here are the questions we asked them:

1) Is it difficult to find qualified technicians in your area?

2) Are you having trouble competing with dealerships, when it comes to offering competitive employment packages?

3) Where do you go to find qualified technicians – an association, a local automotive or vo-tech school, local advertising?

Read on to learn their responses and then continue on to our summary where we talk about what a few clever entrepreneurs are doing to make difference in their areas.

Stephen Shaw, owner, Shaw Auto Care Inc. Cuyahoga Falls, OH – one location:

On Finding Techs: “Yes. It’s definitely a problem in our area.”

Competing with Dealerships: “The dealerships are having the same problems we are. I know for a fact that right now they’ve got guys standing around in the bays because they don’t have enough work to fill their hours.”

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Where to Find Techs: “I’m not looking to hire right now. [But when I do] a lot of times it’s just by word of mouth from the guys on the tool trucks who come by my shop.”

Allan Walker, owner, Rising Sun Japanese Auto Service, Austin, TX – two locations:

On Finding Techs: “No. I don’t see it as a problem right now. We’ve got enough people to do the work that we expect to come in. But, I and all of my guys are in our mid- to late-40s and we talk about what’s going to happen when we are gone.”

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Competing with Dealerships: “Sometimes, if you get a fully trained mature technician who is a proven moneymaker you are not going to say no, but those are pretty rare. We offer good benefits: We have paid health insurance and a good 401K plan with a match. And, we don’t work weekends, which is nice.”

Where to Find Techs: “When we do look to hire we go to Austin Community College. They [the students there] are a little more motivated. They have at least made a commitment to do this for a living. But like you said, there is a lot of competition for those guys, and at least in Austin, they have a lot of alternatives besides working on cars. It’s not an easy way to make a living.”

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Craig Globokar, manager, Fletcher’s Tire & Auto Service, Scottsdale, AZ – 27 locations:

On Finding Techs: “No, we don’t have any problems filling open positions. Currently, we are staffed at levels that we’re happy with.”

Competing with Dealerships: “No, I don’t see it as an issue, but I wouldn’t really know.”

Where to Find Techs: “When we need to hire, our corporate office will advertise in the paper and will go to a couple different tech schools in the area, Typically, we go to the tech schools first.”

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Gino Fagnelli, owner, Gino’s Auto Service, Pittsburgh, PA – one location:

On Finding Techs: “I’m not looking to hire right now, but maybe in a year or so.

Competing with Dealerships: “They [the dealerships] have the same problems I have. They can’t find mechanics.”

Where to Find Techs: “[When I do look to hire] it’s really just word-of-mouth or an ad in the paper. There are a few vo-tech schools in our area, but we don’t get any of our technicians from them.”

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SUMMARY by Amy Antenora, editor:

While predictions for the future supply of technicians are dire, for the time being, things seem to be status quo. The general attitude of those we spoke with is that finding good help is always an issue, but they deal with it.

This industry is making strides when it comes to conveying the skill and credibility involved in being a trained technician — thanks to organizations such as ASE and others. However, this industry doesn’t do such a good job helping the smaller shops learn how to run their businesses more efficiently when it comes to business management, making time for training, and finding (and retaining) qualified technicians. Too often, it’s only those skilled technicians also blessed with natural business skills who are able to stay afloat.

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Repair shops, particularly the smaller, independent shops, often don’t have the luxury of time. Unfortunately, the daily tasks required to keep a shop running profitably rarely leave time for training, attending seminars, job fairs and the like. Even more unfortunate is the fact that shop owners are missing out on a lot by not having the time to step outside their daily routines for other important business efforts such as recruitment.

Take for instance the program that Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES) will offer at this year’s Chicago Auto Show. This year, AYES is hosting a group of Chicago area high school seniors, ages 17-18, who are interested in pursuing careers as automotive technicians. This program, which is part of AYES’ nationwide initiative to provide training and opportunities to young people interested in automotive technology, is simply a brilliant marketing scheme. These kids get a firsthand look at what their future holds by walking the show floor and attending press conferences, while at the same time becoming an instance resource for show exhibitors. AYES is making the students available for interviews – manufacturers will be able to get free focus-group impressions of their products from these aspiring techs. And this is exactly the audience that manufacturers need to tap into – their future customers.

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In yet another win-win example, Bobby Gray, CEO of Gray-Daniels, an automotive dealership in Mississippi is partnering with local community college, Hinds Community College (HCC), to alleviate the tech shortage issues in his area. The handshake partnership offers hands-on educational experience for the students and puts more staff in Gray’s service bays. As part of a two-year certificate program, students rotate eight weeks in a classroom setting and eight weeks working in Daniels’ dealership. The project will also include the help of a recruiter and an awareness campaign to increase the student applicant pool. The program is being marketed through direct mail, high school recruitment visits and online. Daniels donated $150,000 to the project.

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I applaud AYES, HCC and Bobby Daniels for their clever, hands-on efforts to address the tech shortage, giving students real-world experience while getting the help they need in the shops. And, I realize these are only two of many great examples. I just wonder why it’s almost always the OEs that we see driving these kinds of initiatives? Is it a matter of better marketing, more desire, more funds?

You tell me.

If you know of aftermarket-driven initiatives such as these, please let me know and I’ll share it with our readers. Email me at [email protected] .

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