Every year Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week explodes on the scene with megatons of automotive glitter and information overload.
It's all too easy in this ``wheel life'' spectacle to overlook the gems a show-goer should take back home-even if it means jettisoning a catalog or dog-eared poster.
One such jewel is the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) Town Hall meeting. It's a breakfast that, along with bacon and eggs, serves up frank dialogue on tough challenges faced by the automotive aftermarket-whether those parts and services are generated from retail sales to ``do-it-yourselfers'' or are professionally installed.
This year's session during the recent Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) in Las Vegas was sponsored by NASCAR Performance.
The topic-``Demographic Reality Check: Is the Aftermarket Prepared for a Workforce Shortage?''- was tackled by a four-person panel moderated by AAIA President Kathleen Schmatz.
Representing the industry were Greg Henslee and Ted Wise, CEO and COO, respectively, of O'Reilly Automotive Inc. (The two share the presidency role.) The 2006 Town Hall broke new ground as the AAIA tapped horsepower from outside the world of cars and parts: Judy Woodruff, renowned broadcast journalist; and Steven Milovich, Walt Disney Co.'s senior vice president of human resources, organization and leadership development.
Leadership is crucial to prepare for the coming work force changes, panelists agreed.
O'Reilly's culture since 1957 has been to ``raise our own'' managers and executive leadership, promoting from within, Mr. Henslee said. He was quick to point out that approach may not work for other organizations.
The challenge for O'Reilly's is finding ``people who like to give great customer service'' and keep them and train them in an era where ``parts specialists are offered high-paying jobs in the oil industry,'' he said. Even fast-food operations can pay higher wages due to O'Reilly's margins, he added.
The auto parts retail chain is struggling with finding young people with mechanical aptitude.
``We used to have `gearheads' (applying for jobs), but today's young people are often more interested in computers,'' Mr. Henslee said.
In fact, Disney's Mr. Milovich advised, ``Fish where the fish are. You have to go to the Internet and new technologies'' to connect with the work force and attract promising people when they're not even considering a career move.
Calling online job boards a ``reactionary strategy'' in pursuing top talent, Mr. Milovich urged companies to hire someone to set up a means by which the organization assesses job candidates and is accessible.
``You may have a `laboratory' in your home,'' he said, only half-jokingly, referring to his own 21- to 23-year-old offspring.
Ms. Woodruff, who is completing ``Generation Next: Speak Up. Be Heard,'' a documentary to be shown Jan. 12 on Public Broadcasting Service, said her research criss-crossing the country talking to 16- to 25-year-olds shed some light on the young people the aftermarket seeks.
``They had more to say and were more thoughtful than I gave them credit for,'' the former NBC News White House correspondent said. ``They're thinking more about the world we're giving them. They want to make contributions.''
Even though the panelists spoke of extreme cases-young new hires expecting a promotion in the first month and vacation time not much longer after that-Ms. Woodruff noted that ``it didn't come across that this was a generation of greed. It's that they want the feeling they've found a place where they respect the values of the work force, the people they work with and they're making a difference in the world.
``So often we hear, `I just want to know somebody's listening,''' Ms. Woodruff added. ``It doesn't mean they come in and they start running your company. Certainly not. They just want to put their own stamp on where they're going.''
Though the panelists discussed a shortage of well-educated, technically specialized workers as baby boomers retire-and what author Edward Gordon has called ``The 2010 Meltdown'' -there may be alternatives.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2014, baby boomers will be 50 to 68 years old. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of workers 55 and older is projected to grow by 49.1 percent, nearly five times the 10-percent growth projected for the overall labor force.
There will be a decline in those between ages 16 and 24 and their share of the labor force will slip to 13.7 percent in 2014 from 15.1 percent in 2004. Prime-age workers, defined as between ages 25 and 54, also will decline to 65.2 percent in 2014 from 69.3 percent in 2004 . The 55-and-older age group, on the other hand, is projected to gain share of the labor force, to 21.2 percent from 15.6 percent.
Early on, Ms. Schmatz had posed the provocative question, ``Who will replace us? In 2011, an estimated 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day.''
Disney's Mr. Milovich said, ``We need to think about retiring the idea of retirement, to make it easier to retain people or hire other people,'' adding that the business community should turn to their lawmakers for changes in policy.
Asked about hiring 50-year-olds, he said, ``There's no way you can afford to miss out on any segment of the labor market.'' To recognize talent, aftermarket companies must ``invest in the quality of your leaders. Help them shift attitudes.''
But he warned that the paradigm shift mustn't ``be faddish. It has to have substance. Go for engagement. There are leaders at all levels of the organization. They are a key line of defense in this war for talent.''
Ted Wise of O'Reilly agreed, suggesting that relationships are vital and must be nurtured. ``People quit people. They don't quit jobs.''
Odis Lloyd, NASCAR's managing director of automotive licensing, said he was impressed with the exchange of ideas. But, he pointed out, the audience has to take it to the next level.
``If you're hearing all this good information and not applying it, then why are we here? You need to ask yourself, `How are we doing?' ''