The Hiring Crisis: A Millennial’s Perspective
Lazy. Entitled. Job hoppers. Kevin Layton has heard it all before. He knows the stigma surrounding his generation—the millennial generation, defined as those ages 20 to 36. And not only is he here to prove those stereotypes wrong, he and his generation are also key to slowing down the technician shortage currently plaguing the automotive industry.
“I feel like there are definitely stigmas associated with the younger population of industry professionals,” says Layton, a graduate of Pinellas Technical College (P-Tech) and now a technician at Bert Smith Collision Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. “The average age in this industry is 54 or 56. I’m 26. The next oldest tech is 47. There is an age gap there and as someone brand new and just out of school, there are all these techs that have been doing this for 25 years. You’re a greenhorn and they definitely look at you and think, ‘I’ve been doing this my entire career.’
“But, I feel that’s with most professions. If I went into anything else, as someone very young in the industry, there is that stigma with.”
Layton decided to abandon his college business path and take a chance on the collision repair industry—and he says he’s never been happier.
“I’ve worked here just over four years now. It’s the first shop I’ve ever worked in and it’s such a wonderful experience,” he says. “I love my job and what I do. A year and a half ago, I was able to purchase my first house. The work we put out is top-of-the-line work. I’m proud of what we do here and the people I work with are family to me.”
Fixed Ops Business spoke with Layton on his experience, perception and keys to success just three years into the industry.
Were you always interested in the industry? What peaked your interest and started you down this path?
All throughout high school, I’ve always worked on motorcycles for my own enjoyment. I was always into the garage and big into cars. In high school, I was aware of tech schools and the value of acquiring a skill or a trade. But it really wasn’t at the forefront of my thoughts. I didn’t think about going to tech schools as an option in high school. I was expecting to go to college and get a degree and work in the field of my study. My parents are very traditional and they believed it makes sense to go to high school and then college. I did that and I got really good grades in high school and college. It’s not as if it wasn’t an option to work in whatever my field of study was in college.
What really made me consider a tech school is that in college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went to school for business but I was always bouncing around, from meteorology to pharmacy.
I had some friends that attended P-Tech and I went through an orientation with them to see if it was for me. They have over 60 different programs and I realized working with vehicles and working with my hands was my passion outside of work and school. It’s a good technician school and I figured, a 1.5-year program isn’t a lot of time. It’s 18 credit hours in college and it counted as college credit hours so I figured I might as well get some industry training and go. So, I decided to do the automotive collision repair and refinishing program.
What has been the biggest difference between school and work for you? Were there any surprises to you?
Repairing a car is not such a barbaric, invasive ritual anymore with giant sledge hammers and chains. As much as there is that side of it, there is computer tech and programming and I feel like coming into the industry, that is something I had to offer. I am tech savvy and I do understand programming and how to handle the tech aspects. I came into it with something to offer to the techs that have been here for 30 years. I feel like it’s a coexistence between new young techs and seasoned mechanics and techs. We help each other a lot.
How do you think that young people are perceived by the industry? Are there certain stigmas around millennials in the workforce, and did that affect your entry into the profession?
It didn’t really affect me negatively. I came into the industry expecting a little bit of ageism as far as being brand new in the industry. When I first met the people I work with currently, I had that in my thoughts, so I did respect that they have an entire career of experience. They know a lot. Very quickly, they learned that I wasn’t trying to tell them how to do their job. I think that helped them be very accepting of a young tech. Also, I’ve always worked very methodically and I’m very organized and timely with my work.
In your experience, what makes a good mentor?
Each of them came from totally different backgrounds and really opposite ends of the spectrum. That meant that they both had a lot to offer. One mentor worked 100 percent by the book with surgical precision. Everything he does is as clean and precise and as methodical as possible. That's how I like to work, so I appreciate that.
My other mentor who I work with currently, when he first started, he worked in another country where it was completely different and he got into custom work. They would do a lot of metal fabrication, so if something doesn’t fit or work, you had to improvise and make it work. The work he put out was quality work and still by the book, but the path he took to get that quality work was a different route.
I’ve benefitted from both of them as far as learning how to work by the book and how to improvise on certain repairs while still doing legitimate repairs. It’s more about learning how to work through problems that arise.
As a young person starting out in their career, what does a desirable workplace look like to you?
Bert Smith has a really good reputation as far as their customer service and the work they put out, both service and collision work. It’s one of the most top-notch shops in Florida.
Customers that have high-end cars, the BMWs and Porsches, they’re passionate about their cars. They know that their car will be taken care of and repaired by industry professionals that do all the recommended repair procedures. That definitely appealed to me right off the bat. All the work I do, I put my heart and soul into. I have a lot of pride in my work and craftsmanship. I like people to recognize that. It makes me feel good when someone picks up their car and they’re ecstatic with how it came out. It’s super satisfying. The Porsches are awesome to work on. It’s essentially like working on race cars.
I also really appreciate that they invest in me. I started going through the BMW training, online and in person at their two facilities in New Jersey and South Carolina. I would travel there once per month. Up until that point, I had never traveled for work or been on a business trip. I started doing that with Porsche as well. I got all of my training for BMW and Porsche. It’s so awesome to go to the BMW facilities and really learn about repair procedures, the business. It instills a lot of confidence in you and passion when you go to their training.
I’ve gone through all my training with ASE, I-CAR and I’ve completed all of those. It’s really about continued education and always remaining at the top of your game.