Combatting the Technician Shortage
I have written in the past about the bleak outlook for our future technicians. Recently, I have teamed up with our local county development corporation to help me get the word out and make some contacts for future employees. This has caused me to change the person I am looking to hire to be a service or body shop technician. In Kansas City, we have one community college that trains certified Ford technicians, but only graduates one class every two years. If you are lucky enough to sponsor one of their students in two years, they come out of school certified for warranty repairs. But they are still very inexperienced when it comes to repairing vehicles and require several months, if not a year, of apprenticeship.
With the help of the development corporation, I have toured several of the colleges that have automotive repair and body shop programs and discussed each program to help me understand who they train. The truth is, all of these other schools train what most people would call our “competition.” They train all of the light-maintenance technicians that will enter the workforce for the aftermarket competitors to try and pull the easy repair away from us, as vehicles age and are no longer under warranty. Yet, these students would work perfect for my quick lane and internal service departments with the hope they would want to continue their education through us. I am in the process of setting myself up with each school where I can go and talk to their students about the opportunities we provide for the skills they are being taught and the process of becoming a certified technician through the dealership and online training.
After meeting with the director and several of his instructors at one of the local community colleges, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they understood who they were training and that their students have a long road to join the line of any dealership. This is in contrast to several years ago, when most of the students were told that they were ready to work on anything. It seems that with all of the advances in vehicles in the last few years, these schools understand that all they can teach is the fundamentals and basic maintenance. They also inform their students that if they are lucky enough to get a job that provides additional training and apprenticeship, they should be very grateful and understand it may take them several years to become a certified technician.
Now when it comes to the body shop programs, they still work and train in the past. The best you can hope for from anyone coming out of a body repair program is that they understand the basics. But the equipment required to repair most of the late-model vehicles is something no school can afford. When I spoke with the instructors and some of the students, I was sure to let them know that if they are to continue in the body repair business, they need to understand that for their first job, they really do not know how to repair a vehicle and should be grateful if someone takes them in as an apprentice.
My next step is to start talking with our high schools instructors and counselors. I want to express to them that our industry is no longer the place to send the troublemakers or bad students. We have to start changing our image with the schools. I have a meeting in March to speak to one of our high schools that has teamed up with one of our community colleges to start their own automotive technology programs to hopefully help them guide more people into our industry. I’ll let you know how that goes.