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Dealer associations amp up efforts to recruit young technicians

November 1, 2019
Anxious to replenish a dwindling auto-technician workforce, car dealers are, among other things, trying to recast the public image of auto mechanics as well-paid, well-trained, computer-savvy professionals.
The auto-retailing industry is facing a critical shortage of service technicians, a problem that will worsen in coming years if not addressed, the National Automobile Dealers Association projects.
"We’re working hard on this," said Charlie Gilchrist, a Texas dealer and the 2019 NADA chairman. "The tech shortage is a serious issue, not only for dealers but for OEMs. Older techs are retiring, and we need to bring in new people."
America’s technical colleges and training programs graduate about 37,000 auto mechanics a year. Yet the industry needs to replace roughly 76,000 technicians annually to keep pace with retirements and new jobs in the sector, the NADA said.
The dealer association and similar groups have launched initiatives to ease the shortage, but "we’ve a long way to go," Gilchrist said during an appearance at an Automotive Press Assn. gathering in Detroit.
The Chicago Automobile Trade Association is developing a pilot program for area high school students enrolled in vocational training, to expose them to service department work and potential careers as technicians. The students could earn school credit for their work, and they would be guided to community colleges to continue their vocational educations. If the program succeeds, it would be rolled out at schools throughout the area.
Another project is the NADA Foundation’s Workforce Initiative. It aims to promote the benefits of auto technician work and make it easier, digitally and otherwise, for interested persons to learn about local training opportunities.
Automaker contributors to that cause include Toyota ($100,000), Hyundai ($50,000) and Porsche ($25,000).
"We need an initiative the entire auto industry can get behind," Gilchrist said.
Efforts also are underway to reach out to high schoolers and even middle schoolers to whet their interest in such work. The NADA said the average U.S. dealership technician earns more than $61,000 a year, and experienced mechanics can make more than $100,000 annually.
Some local dealership groups, such as the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, have established their own regional training centers. Other dealer associations have partnered with local community colleges to offer auto-tech training.  
Some programs seek to reach not only students but also their parents. Children may not listen when their parents tell them to clean their room, but many young people heed parental career advice.            
The recruiting efforts try to convey the message that the days of the "grease monkey" or backyard mechanic are over because vehicles now are so advanced.
"As vehicles become more technically driven, we need younger minds to service them," Gilchrist said. "It used to be a greasy job. People got their hands dirty. Now it’s high-tech and high-paying. Our job is to let people know how wonderful it is to work at a dealership. I don’t think we’ve done that in the past."
Asked to describe the wonders of dealership work, he said: "We try real hard to make sure our people know how much we care about them. If we do, they’ll care about customers. "We’re trying to change up, so we have flexible scheduling, allowing people to have time off when they need it.
"To me, because of the family atmosphere dealerships provide, it’s the only place to work. It’s an exciting business. It’s incredible. And dealing with people and customers is fascinating."
Then there are the occasional car-lot barbecues. "That too," Gilchrist said. "We do a lot of fun things."