Scholarships and competitions
There are an numerous scholarships available to aspiring auto technicians, many of them sponsored by aftermarket companies and associations.
A long list of aftermarket associations-including the Tire Industry Association (TIA), the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), the Motor & Equipment Market Association and the AAIA-supports and promotes the Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium (GAAS) Scholarship Program.
Founded in 1996, the GAAS Scholarship Program has given out more than 900 $1,000 scholarships to auto technology students and will reach the 1,000 mark in 2005, according to Pete Kornafel, vice chairman of CARQUEST Corp. and chairman of the GAAS scholarship committee.
In 2004, the program awarded 145 scholarships out of more than 500 qualified applicants, according to Mr. Kornafel. There are 20 members on the scholarship committee, he said-one from each of the eight supporting associations and 12 at-large, rotating members.
Qualified applicants have graduated from high school two years or less before applying and are enrolled in any accredited college or university or NATEF-certified vocational school, Mr. Kornafel said. ``The committee gives strongest weight to applicants who want to become technicians and to sons and daughters of aftermarket industry families,'' he added.
In 2004, the committee did a survey of former scholarship recipients. ``Seventy-five percent are working in the aftermarket, including technicians at independent shops and new-car dealers, and people working for parts suppliers or manufacturers,'' Mr. Kornafel said. ``The vast majority said the GAAS Scholarship helped a lot with their education.''
Some aftermarket associations, both on the state and national levels, also sponsor their own scholarship programs. Since 1984, for example, SEMA has awarded more than $650,000 to deserving students through its SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund (SMSF), according to the Diamond Bar, Calif.-based trade group's Web site. In 2005 alone, the SMSF handed out $120,000 to 80 auto technical students in colleges and technical schools across the U.S.
Many scholarship programs take the form of student competitions. The Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills contest famously offers winning students a wide choice of scholarships from various colleges and technical institutions, as well as general education scholarship money from the sponsoring entities, Ford Motor Co. and the American Automobile Association (AAA).
SkillsUSA, a national organization designed to promote excellence in vocational training in a wide range of fields, sponsors a national competition every year in Kansas City in areas including auto service technology, collision repair technology and diesel equipment technology. An active SkillsUSA chapter is another prerequisite for schools that seek to participate in the AYES program.
There's also the National Automotive Technology Competition, founded in 1990 by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association. Sponsored by ASE, AYES, 19 auto makers, Snap-on Tools Co. and a long list of technical institutions, this competition offers participating students more than $3 million in prizes and scholarships every year, including two Chevrolet Cobalts to the two-person winning team.
Though TIA sponsors the GAAS Scholarship Program and has a long history of professional training programs, it hasn't ventured into AYES-type partnerships with schools and colleges to promote tire and auto technical training for young people, according to Kevin Rohlwing, TIA senior vice president of education and technical services. But that could change in the near future, he said.
TIA already has had some discussions with Massachusetts Bay Community College in Boston and with Denver Automotive & Diesel College, a part of Lincoln Technical Institute, about partnering to offer tire technical classes there, according to Mr. Rohlwing. It also is talking to the Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland toward the same goal.
Two state associations, the Virginia Automotive Association and the New England Tire & Service Association, are working with the national organization toward establishing some training programs, Mr. Rohlwing said.
``We're also negotiating with other state associations to put together partnerships with them,'' he said. ``The goal is that each region would have its own training centers, so people wouldn't have to travel all the way to us. If we could have two or three schools in each geographic region, that would do it.''
The nationwide shortage of technicians means that more and more of the training burden will fall on the industry itself, and increasingly this will mean partnerships with technical schools, according to Mr. Rohlwing.
``Even the original equipment manufacturers don't have their own training centers any more,'' he said. ``I don't know if all of them are closed, but most of them are, and they're going instead to the Massachusetts Bay Community Colleges and the Lincoln Technical Institutes.
``From now on, you're going to have to start at the beginning with a lot of new kids,'' Mr. Rohlwing added. ``And if you want to be an automotive technician, you're going to have to be in school for more or less the rest of your life.''
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Why the shortage?
The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association cites a number of factors and trends it says supports the case for a growing need for techs:
* 100 percent placement rates for automotive students from training programs.
* Light vehicle registrations continue to rise, especially those more than 5 years old.
* More miles are being driven-per vehicle and in total.
* Average age of vehicles is rising (9.1 years).
* Higher technical skills are required of technicians.
* There is a negative image of the industry.
* Greater competition for young people from other industries.
* More technicians are retiring.