During Automechanika in Chicago, I sat in on the industry town hall that was geared to discussing issues facing the automotive repair industry and a lively discussion ensued about attracting fresh blood into the industry.
It's a problem that's been plaguing the industry for the past few years — trying to fill job positions with qualified mechanics. One participant made a valid point: It's definitely up to us to cultivate the next generation of employees.
It's not enough to sit in the back office and complain about the caliber, or quantity, of job applicants. Shop owners are going to have to actively go out to the high schools and vo-ed programs and get involved in the advisory boards and classes, get to know the advisors and career counselors, and even offer internships.
A few participants complained of a disconnect between schools and the industry — career counselors often don't consider steering bright students toward a career in automotive repair, whether it's fixing cars or working in management.
But it's a two-way street, as another participant pointed out. Auto shops need to develop a relationship with local schools and their career counselors to change their perceptions of the business and its hiring needs.
Busy shop owners may say they don't have time to train new techs, but they can still get involved by being members of their local schools' advisory committees that meet a few times a year to review and suggest changes to the school's automotive curriculum.
If your community doesn't have a tech program, at least participate in an annual career day at a school and talk to students about the opportunities and wages that can be earned in an auto repair facility, another dealer suggested.
Other suggestions included inviting career counselors or even a class to your shop to get a look at a real working repair facility or even offering internships to groom a potential job applicant.
One dealer noted that developing a relationship with the school staff “gives me a little bit of an ‘in'” because he can find out for himself who are the top students he can hire vs. relying just on the career counselor's opinion.
As anyone in the business knows, dealerships need to hire the brightest students to work on cars that have essentially become a computer on four wheels. They have to read, and comprehend, and have to ability to solve mechanical problems.
Unfortunately, many students lack an understanding of the inner workings of a vehicle and schools usually don't have access to modern cars for hands-on repair experience, according to the shop owners.
Shop owners need to discover the needs of their local school programs, help out where they can, offer guidance and essentially groom their future employees.
One dealer made a good point, using a baseball analogy: Think of high students, especially those enrolled in auto repair programs, as you “farm team.” They may be inexperienced, but with training and guidance, they could become professional players in your shop one day.