To combat the industry's automotive technician shortage, several businesses and community-based organizations have formed an educational program that recruits and trains minority students for entry-level tech jobs.
Partnership for Automotive Career Education (PACE), a Boston-based organization, began teaching basic auto repair skills in January and graduated its first class of 14 students in June, according to Roberto Flores, PACE project coordinator. PACE has placed the graduates at paid externships this summer throughout the city and expects to place them in full-time jobs in September.
Students received 177 hours of training in the following: safety; tool identification; vehicle component identification; vehicle service preparation; maintenance service; basic electrical service; tire service and wheel balancing; and brake service and wheel alignments. Graduates must continue attending a second round of advanced classes beginning in September that focus on electrical systems repair, chassis, suspension and brakes.
PACE is a collaboration of automotive repair businesses, two area schools and three community-based organizations: the Asian American Civic Association, La Alianza HispaÃ±a and the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. Classes were held at the two partnering schools, the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology and Madison Park Vocational High School.
Core business partners that have teamed up with PACE include Sullivan Tire Co., Bridgestone/Firestone and the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, Mr. Flores noted.
He said PACE received a three-year, $1 million grant from a consortium of local foundations called SkillWorks. The grant has helped get the program implemented, paying for its administration, operations and for pre-employment training for up to 100 technicians and 150 experienced techs.
PACE's governing board will then look at how to sustain the training program after the money runs out, Mr. Flores said, adding that the organization hopes the automotive industry will see PACE's value and support it after that grant expires.
Norwell, Mass.-based Sullivan Tire is providing a summer externship for a PACE graduate. Anne Lustwerk, Sullivan Tire's director of training, said the dealership was invited to PACE's first meeting about two years ago and decided to get involved.
Ms. Lustwerk sits on PACE's advisory committee and has provided input on automotive curriculum from the start. She said Sullivan Tire looks at PACE as a good investment in the future as more technicians retire.
``As an employer, it's always good to get people early in this stage because you can train them in the habits and the things that you would want them to have,'' Ms. Lustwerk said. ``We'd love to be able to hire a master technician all the time. However, it's just not realistic.
``They're not available. You do need the entry-level employees.''
Many automotive programs in New England are car manufacturer-sponsored, she said, and place graduates in auto dealerships, making it all the more difficult for auto service shops and tire dealerships to recruit new technicians.
Dick Cole, executive director of the New England Tire & Service Association, noted that a technician shortage is common throughout New England.
``Almost in any shop you go by, you'll see a sign saying, `Technician needed.... Help wanted,''' Mr. Cole said.
``And it's not that there's a super amount of turnover, it's just that as the shops are growing, you need to get somebody on board, and that person needs to be reasonably trained. A lot of (tire dealerships) are trying to train from within.''
Ms. Lustwerk also noted that another reason that made PACE attractive to Sullivan Tire is the fact that students are pre-screened by PACE for reading and math skills and also must take a mechanical ability test when they apply.
``Before they even walk through the door to PACE, they had to take all these tests,'' Ms. Lustwerk told Tire Business.
``They had to be interviewed by PACE...so we know a little bit more about them than say, the average person just walking in.''
Mr. Flores noted that the program attracts students as young as 19 and as old as 40. PACE recruited the students through its community-based partners and looked for candidates with ``a need to come into the automotive industry and follow through with a career.''