If you’ve been around the automotive industry for any length of time, you probably are fully aware of a couple of things. First, the technician shortage is very real. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this country needs about 76,000 auto service technicians each year between 2016 and 2026. These new technicians would replace those retiring or leaving the industry and fill new openings.
Let’s be clear — the shortage does not just affect the automotive industry. Nearly all technical industries currently face a shortage. However, the automotive industry faces a particularly challenging situation because aviation, marine, wind energy, oil and gas, construction and other industries are actively recruiting from the automotive trades. Pair that with rapid technology advancements that increase the need for technicians, and the supply-demand outlook is pretty grim.
Second, this problem will likely take decades to solve because there is not just one answer to the problem. That is why it is so important to take the time to find the entry-level techs you need today, grow them into the techs you need tomorrow and provide quality mentoring so they stay in the industry for years to come.
Taking a chance
When the outlook to fill a vacancy seems impossible, what is a shop to do? Sit back and watch it happen? Turn customers away? Pay your employees overtime because you can’t complete the jobs during regular work hours?
Perhaps a better solution is to think practically about how to fill that technician pipeline. It could be that the answer is right down the road at your local tech school or post-secondary automotive program.
But wait — can you afford to hire entry-level? Won’t they make a lot of mistakes because of their lack of experience? And will they stay in the industry? Are they worth your consideration?
Though these may be valid questions, there are many reasons to take a chance on entry-level, semi-skilled technicians:
- Their enthusiasm. Career tech students may have tinkered with cars or motorcycles at home, and they have experience from their school shop environment, but this may be their first exposure to a real workplace. With that first job comes the excitement of learning all they can as they work their way to the more difficult skilled tasks.
- Their love of technology. Technology has changed cars in countless ways over the past couple of decades, and more changes are coming down the pike. Students coming out of career tech have grown up with these new technologies and are eager to share their knowledge. They have been exposed to all kinds of computers, tablets, smart devices, and other technology so they may adapt better to rapid technological changes. The old ways have been changing for some time now, and your business needs employees with fresh attitudes that are willing to take the leap with technology.
- Their willingness to learn. Often a new employee, no matter what the age or experience, wants to start with the most complex task instead of learning the basics and getting to know the specific shop environment. Entry-level employees are no different. It may take some coaxing to convince them to slow down and take their time, but it will be worth the effort. An eager willingness to learn may set an entry-level employee apart from those who’ve been in the industry for years and would rather not take the time to learn new technologies or ways of doing things. Good employees always relish an opportunity to learn, no matter what their age or experience.
- Your commitment to grow your own. You’ve heard this phrase before, but have you really thought about the advantages of developing an employee over a period of years? This doesn’t mean you neglect your long-term employees, but it does mean that you make a steadfast commitment to an employee who is willing to grow within your business. An entry-level person can be trained and molded to the traits and habits of your business, and this makes them a potentially valuable team player.
- It might be all you can find. Apart from poaching from your competitors, what are your other options when looking to hire? As mentioned earlier, many career tech students with automotive experience are being drawn away by other industries. Many of these industries involve similar skill sets, and they are actively attempting to out-recruit the automotive industry, either with more compelling opportunities, better benefit programs, and/or more pay at the outset. Don’t let your unwillingness to hire entry-level employees make it more difficult for your business in the long run.
In your own neighborhood
So let’s say you are willing to hire entry-level or semi-skilled technicians. Where do you find them? This may be easier than you realize, and they might just be in your own neighborhood.
Here are some ways to foster relationships with those who have access to the entry-level technicians you need:
- Visit your local career-tech schools. Do you know the career tech schools and post-secondary programs in your area? See if you can visit the program, observe the students and visualize the needs. You may be a graduate of a local program; use this opportunity to stop by the school to share your own success story. Making a site visit may help you come up with ideas of how you can form a partnership or at least plant the seed that your business is willing to hire young people. Putting a face with a business name can help students see themselves in the industry. Let them know you can be a resource as they further their education and envision their career path.
- Join your local school’s advisory board. There may be an opportunity to join the advisory board at your local career tech or college. The board often has more input than an instructor regarding funding, as it is often composed of a mix of people with a range of experience. Often, joining a board is not a huge commitment, but the rewards are many. You may have the opportunity to offer guidance on the needs of the industry, how the curriculum fits with those needs, and how industry and schools can partner together.
- Get to know the automotive instructors. Instructors are busy in the classroom, but they need guidance from industry about what skills need to be emphasized and how they can be supported. Connect with instructors as you travel to trade shows, conferences and other learning opportunities. Let them know you are interested in helping their students find career paths, not just jobs, in automotive. Tell them you need skilled technicians, and find out who their best students are.
Get to know the higher-level administrators at career tech schools. The president of the college might not be a “car guy” or aware of how much the automotive industry has changed over the years and what the program needs might be. Open the lines of communication regarding today’s changing automotive marketplace. Leadership needs to hear from industry what is needed to support the program. Sometimes it’s about starting a dialogue.
- School career counselors are a great source. They have direct contact with students and are involved in helping them make career choices. Tell them what you are looking for so they can guide students in your direction. Let them know about the math and technology components to the automotive industry today — start changing the perception at the career counselor level.
- Donate something to a program. Many career tech programs or classes lack funding for the basics of working on today’s cars. Your shop may not have a large budget to work with, but any donation will help you forge a partnership with your local school. Put your business name on it and let them see you have a vested interest in the program.
- Have an open house at your shop. Open your shop for a half-day or a few hours, letting students walk around the shop, ask questions, and observe your technicians working. Introduce them to all aspects of the business, from the front desk to the parts department to the work areas. Let them see the possibilities of all of the jobs they may encounter in the industry. Expose students to the real world in an easy, free and effective way. Introduce your employees, and have them explain what they do on a daily basis. Be sure to let your employees know you will be having guests and to be friendly and welcoming. Let students observe the best techs in your business.
Invite the best students back for a “job shadowing” day and see how serious they are about getting a mentorship or a job. This is an opportunity for a one-on-one connection that you might not get elsewhere. Help them to a good start in a career they want!
- Use S/P2 Careers as a recruiting tool. S/P2 Careers is the automotive industry’s largest career database, with more than 50,000 resumes of today’s career tech students who are ready to take their career to the next level. These students have created a resume through their career tech school and are looking for part-time, full-time and internship or mentoring opportunities.
A balanced combination
The best long-lasting combination of employees in your shop are a mix of experienced and entry level. Ideally, the ones with years of experience will be willing to mentor the young, and the ones with just a little bit of experience will be willing to learn and pass on what they know, too.
Take a chance on a young person, and you might be surprised at the successes you will achieve. The perception of this industry isn’t going to get any better unless businesses are out there participating with our young people. Keep in mind, there are a lot of other industries out there who would love to have these entry-level techs — get them while you can!