AKRON — Few in the automotive aftermarket would argue that finding — and keeping — knowledgeable, reliable auto technicians is becoming increasingly difficult in today's tight job market, but just how difficult is it?
The issue is top of mind at the vast majority of the nation's leading tire dealerships, according to dozens of dealership principals who participated in the survey process for Tire Business' special focus on the North American tire retail sector, which is profiled throughout18 pages of this issue.
The situation is tight enough in Ohio, for example, that Conrad's Tire Express & Total Car Care is offering a $1,000 signing bonus for auto techs and potential store managers to move to Ohio and work in the dealership's 37 stores.
Conrad's ad promotes a five-day work week, 401K matching funds, paid training and earnings potential of $100,000 a year for store managers and up to $30 an hour for auto technicians, "based on experience."
The situation among new car dealers is equally tight, according to a recent report in Fixed Ops Journal, an Automotive News publication, which opined that the shortage is threatening the financial health of new-vehicle dealerships.
"Everybody sees profitability in the service drive as the future, but nobody has changed the strategy for talent," according to Adam Robinson, CEO of Chicago-based Hireology Inc., which sells technology-based human resources services to dealerships and other businesses.
Mr. Robinson cites key factors underlying the tech shortage — "Career path is murky, pay plans are highly variable, the hours aren't great — so we're oh-for-three on this. Dealers who can change that dynamic before their competitors do are going to have a real advantage in the market" for techs.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are roughly 750,000 auto techs and mechanics employed nationally. To meet anticipated demand and respond to attrition, the bureau estimates the industry will need about 46,000 more technicians by 2026 — a 6-percent growth rate from 2016.
TechForce Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes careers in automotive tech, paints a grimmer picture: Colleges and trade schools are turning out far fewer service technicians than the industry needs.
The report noted auto tech postsecondary completions have been declining since 2013. The supply of postsecondary auto graduates decreased by 1,829 completions in 2016, compared with 2012.
There were an estimated 38,829 graduates for 2016 in contrast to the projected BLS new entrant demand of 75,900, according to the report. Private sector institutions have experienced the greatest decline, while public two-year institutions (primarily community colleges) have increased substantially.
"Our country and education system have divested in high school auto shops and stigmatized trade school education, which is killing the trades," Jennifer Maher, TechForce CEO and executive director, said.
"A big part of the problem is the outdated image of the 'grease monkey' mechanic that students and their parents, teachers and counselors may have," she said. "Today's techs are well paid, highly skilled, hands-on problem solvers who are not burdened by massive school debt like their four-year school counterparts. As we change this image, we can get more interested in becoming technicians."
New-vehicle dealerships employ about 317,000 service techs, 19 per dealership, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. Older techs who are leaving the business, and newer ones who are prone to job-hopping, will create an industrywide shortage of 20,000 to 25,000 techs in the near term, according to Mattia Janigro, a manager at the automotive research and consulting firm Carlisle & Co.