Current Issue
Published on November 9, 1998

SOLVING TECH SHORTAGE TOGETHER

Sometimes, it's better to cooperate than fight, a lesson all tire dealerships and automotive repair shops might want to take to heart. For proof, just look at what a group of competing repair outlets in Ohio, including one independent tire dealership, has accomplished.

Working together, they have established a recruitment and training program that helps find and develop a source of qualified automotive technicians.

Not only that, but they've put the program on computer disks, available for $100. That way, automotive repair shops everywhere can do the same thing.

What makes this program truly significant, however, is that the owners of these companies recognized that, individually, they couldn't solve the technician shortage.

Industry observers put that shortfall at 60,000 technicians and growing.

In fact, the group's initial effort, involving only two firms, fell short of its goals. One of the program's founders acknowledged that, to succeed, such an effort requires a greater number of sponsors, who can provide jobs, leadership and hands-on experience.

To their credit, the two founders didn't give up. Instead, they came up with a plan that seems to be working.

Known as CAST (for Coop- erative Automotive Service Technician), the two-year program focuses on high school students who must commit to two years of academic study and hands-on work, putting in up to 28 hours a week at their sponsor company.

Graduates earn an associate's degree in automotive technology from Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio.

The course work is tough.

Besides covering a variety of automotive subjects, participants must take classes that include English composition, algebra, trigonometry and business management.

As part of their commitment, graduating students must work for their sponsor for an additional two years, or repay the program's cost if they fail to do so.

At $6,000 per student, paid by participating companies, the cost is steep. But the rewards can be great.

Not only does this program find and develop young technicians, but it may also help alleviate the problem of techs jumping to competing shops for a few additional dollars.

Beyond that, CAST takes a positive step toward changing the industry's ``grease-monkey'' image.

Equally important, the program is educating young people for a better future.

This all came about because a few companies agreed to cooperate in addressing a common industry problem.

It's a lesson other repairs shops should emulate.

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