WASHINGTON-Automakers must strive to attract top students to auto service technology, representatives of Ford Motor Co. and the American Automobile Association said at a press conference June 7. ``The biggest obstacle to obtaining more qualified auto service technicians is Mom and Dad,'' said David Dodds, a training delivery leader with Ford. It is up to automakers to ensure rigorous training programs, he said, and improve the reputation of auto mechanics from the old image of the ``grease monkey.''
Ford and AAA are co-sponsors of the annual National Quality Care Challenge contest for high-school auto repair students, which is designed to address the continuing shortage of young auto technicians, according to Ford and AAA. They estimate the U.S. will need 168,000 new mechanics by the end of the decade.
These technicians will command good salaries-at least $30,000 a year to start, with the potential to earn $75,000. But with the growing complexity and computerization of auto technology, these mechanics will have to be excellent readers-capable of digesting up to 465,000 pages of service manuals-with a solid background in math and science.
An adequate supply of good techs has become crucial to car makers and drivers alike, said Paul Kindschy, AAA Director of National Road Services. ``Poor technicians who can't perform proper repairs mean higher costs and more breakdowns,'' he said.
For Ford, its No. 1 dealership priority is ``fixing cars right the first time,'' Mr. Dodds said. This is the only way the company can win consumer confidence and achieve its goal of becoming the world's largest automaker. But young people, he added, are being steered away from auto technology by parents, teachers and guidance counselors.
In response, Ford began its Auto Service Student Education Training Program, or ``Asset'' Program, a two-year cooperative curriculum with community colleges and other training facilities. Ford provides equipment, texts and training in Ford dealerships. During the training, students earn an hourly wage.
General Motors Inc. and Chrysler Corp. have similar programs, but the Asset Program is by far the largest, according to James Dunst, national manager of the National Quality Care Challenge. More than 60 schools have signed on with Ford, he said.
The Department of Energy is adding its efforts to ensure qualified techs for future vehicles by establishing its Certification of Higher Learning in Alternative Motor Fuel Program, or ``CHAMP'' program, providing scholarships for students to learn repair technologies for alternative fuel vehicles.