With all the technology incorporated into newer vehicles, auto tech students need critical thinking and STEM skills, the panel agreed. The days of teachers sending a disruptive and/or failing student to the auto shop class down the hall is no longer a viable option.
Mr. Holt said that scenario is still played out in many high schools today.
"That's still absolutely going on. And do not expect it to change unless you get involved with your schools and tell them that needs to change," he told shop owners in attendance.
Mr. Holt said the industry can't necessarily blame auto technology teachers for producing entry-level job seekers with low skill levels.
He and others on the panel advocated putting auto technology training under a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program.
Today's kids don't play tactically, Mr. Chesney noted, so educational programs need to provide them opportunities to get hands-on experience with vehicles where they can relate the technology they learn with the physical parts.
"They won't hang around for a long time if you don't give them a way to take all of that knowledge that they're gaining and put it into action," Mr. Seyfer added.
On the other side of the debate, a school instructor in the audience complained that well-educated auto tech students aren't getting the motivation to stick with a career in the industry. Oftentimes an internship or first job involves working every day on the "lube rack."
"Forty percent of graduates from automotive programs who enter the industry are leaving the industry in the first two years. That's not sustainable," Mr. Holt said.
"The fault in this whole thing is not you (teachers), and it's not the student. It's us," Mr. Chesney said. "It's the industry. It's the shop owners. It's those of us who've been in the industry for a long enough period of time and never seen a change of business model, in many cases, since we got into the industry."
"We've got to recognize that those (auto shop) instructors out there are vitally important to the future of our industry," Mr. Holt said. "They're going to shape those young men and young women who are coming into our industry and try to push them toward us.
"We've got to be there to lift up the school, lift up the instructors, help support them and find the financial resources, the equipment, the in-kind donations that we can make. How can we expect our students to be ready to work on 2018, 2019, 2020 vehicle models when we're giving them a 1983 Saab to work on?"
Mr. Chesney also advocated skills and knowledge testing so a vo-ed student can earn a certification.
A new technician with a certification has proved his/her mastery of skill and is marketable to a shop owner, he said, "which means you can raise your prices, and you can pay your technician a livable wage based on the skills that they have just proven that they have."
Mr. Chesney added, "Flat rate was meant to pay for warranty repairs. It had nothing to do with running a business, and all the businesses that follow business models that have been promoted over the last 40 or 50 years were leveraging flat rate to enrich the margin in the business."
The panel encouraged shop owners to reconsider how they pay their techs and whether they have to buy their own tools.
"What I challenge shop owners in this room to do is look in the mirror and modify your business model and learn or read about becoming a servant leader," Mr. Chesney said.
"If you can understand what servant leadership is in the automotive industry, that you serve your production team in a way that allows them to do the job they were trained to do and you pay them for that.
"It's not flat rate; it's a fair wage. It's a livable wage. You can charge for that. The biggest problem we have as an industry is our business model for shop owners."