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Recruiting from the OEM Perspective

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It’s not exactly a novel concept for an OE to operate a training program. Many car manufacturers have operated training programs to convey specialized repair information unique to their new models. But, that continuing education was generally intended for experienced technicians. In recent years, as the technician shortage has become more acute, those programs have shifted their focus to the more basic, entry-level skill level.

One such OEM is BMW of North America, which has revamped its renowned Service Technician Education Program (STEP), established a recruiting program with postsecondary technical schools, and created a training program for military veterans.

“We need to grow wider and we need to look at different avenues,” says Gary Uyematsu, national technical training manager for BMW. “The diminishing hand skills of entry-level techs is of concern to us. In the old days, entry-level techs would work at a tire store or a gas station. This may be the first job that they ever apply for. It’s a big culture shift.”

When the STEP program was created in the late ‘80s, it was intended as a 2–3 year program that graduated roughly 30 students per year. And while Uyematsu says it worked as intended, the low number of graduates did little to help relieve the technician shortage. So, in the late ‘90s, the OE revamped the program, creating a 16-week BMW-specific course that prepares students chosen from the top 10 percent of their class in a postsecondary automotive training program. While fundamentals like engine and transmission repairs are taught, some 90 percent of the instruction deals with electronic systems.

At the headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., where one of seven BMW national training centers is housed, students in the STEP program do both textbook and hands-on work in combined classroom workshops. The program graduates roughly 400 students per year, 4,800 since its inception (adding up to 37 percent of the active workforce), and 94 percent are placed in dealership jobs, Uyematsu says. Of those, 50 percent remain working in BMW dealerships.

However, Uyematsu says the STEP program is only one of a few programs in which BMW participates.

“I think traditionally, like any business, we're looking for change when change is needed,” he says. “One thing we’re doing now as opposed to the past, because of the culture change with entry-level techs, we’re looking at different types of programs. … We want to be successful and we don’t want to get stale.”

To that end, BMW also partners with local community colleges in conjunction with an associate’s degree, participates with for-profit programs, and regularly works with technical schools to participate at career fairs and recruit students. One of its newest efforts is a military STEP program, which hopes to connect dealers to military veterans.

The program, which is in conjunction with Universal Technical Institute, is currently housed at Camp Pendleton, where BMW will recruit military personnel (roughly six months prior to their transition to civilian life) who desire to work in automotive, says Bob Witte, military and STEP recruiting manager. The personnel will then go through the military STEP program, which is roughly the same curriculum and length of time as the regular program, and upon graduation, will be placed with a dealership as they transition to civilian life.

“It’s designed to take their military training and experience—they’ll have their hand skills from the industry—and create viable career paths,” Witte says. 

The program will officially launch with nine candidates in the fourth quarter of 2017 and Witte says that upon completion, they hope to quickly expand the program to more classes per year and training centers throughout the country.

“We’ve had a lot of success with recruiting,” he says. “They’re more mature, goal oriented. They have their military background when they go back to civilian life.”

However, for all programs to see success, both Witte and Uyematsu emphasize the role of dealers in creating desirable workplaces that retain technicians.

“A lot of our dealers are very competitive for these students,” Uyematsu says. “They have a very good onboarding program. They’ve become very aware of that. These students will get multiple offers. They have to weigh things, like any normal job selection. … For dealerships that really nurture the program, they’re really good at it. They will show them a mentorship program. They’ll have perks like relocation fees. They really woo the student.”

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