SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The automotive industry needs to recruit more women technicians to offset the worker shortage, but many obstacles have to be removed first, according to a new TechForce Foundation whitepaper addressing the role of women techs.
Women Techs: Solving the Tech Shortage Problem discusses how the automotive, aviation, diesel, collision, motorsports and other transportation industry sectors can recruit and retain women technicians and offer professional growth opportunities throughout every phase of their careers.
TechForce Foundation interviewed women technicians across multiple sectors from the U.S., Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. The interview group spanned every career stage, ranging in age from 19 to 60 years old.
"Women make up more than half the population but account for less than 3% of the technician workforce," TechForce CEO Jennifer Maher said.
"The women techs we spoke to are thriving, and with demand for qualified technicians across the service and maintenance sector greatly outpacing supply, there is a huge opportunity for the industry to recruit women into these important 'new collar,' STEM careers," she said.
In addition to collecting and sharing the real-world experience and insights of women techs, TechForce outlines steps employers can take to enhance their ongoing recruitment, retention and growth strategies.
"It's clear that women seeking technician careers will play a vital part in the service and maintenance industry, where the need for talent at all levels is enormous," Dana Rapoport, TechForce's chief consultant, said. "We hope employers take full advantage of this opportunity and implement the findings in this whitepaper to welcome this growing pool of diverse, skilled workers eager to contribute to the technician workforce."
According to the report, demand for automotive technicians (177,998) in 2021 exceeded the number of technicians completing their certification in 2020 (32,715).
"The technological tsunami offers an ideal scenario for attracting more women who are increasingly interested in STEM careers, but first, transportation employers must take steps to ensure that the working conditions are such that these women techs have a place where their skills will be nurtured and valued by embracing the concepts of DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion)," the report said.
Employers must be willing to treat all employees equally but also acknowledge differences.
"Different perspectives offer greater creativity and problem solving, leading to higher customer retention, enhanced innovation and increased profitability."
The study reported that about 93% of women techs were discouraged from becoming a technician when they were children. More than half the women technicians interviewed said they arrived at their chosen career later in life and/or through non-traditional means, typically because they were discouraged from pursuing such a career when they were younger.
"Society's view of the transportation industry acts as a major deterrent for women interested in becoming technicians," the report said. "Technicians are often portrayed as dirty and greasy, creating an image that few parents encourage their children to embrace, especially the parents of young women who often have additional reservations related to the challenges their daughters are likely to face while working in a male-dominated field."
After entering the industry, 84% of women techs reported experiencing bias from customers, co-workers or management.
Employers can negate this by involving women in discussions and listening to their insights so employers can address and eliminate microaggressions and unconscious bias, the report suggested.
Being a minority in any industry can feel isolating, and many women techs desire a place where she feels welcome.
"Women techs who feel supported excel in their careers; they are passionate about their profession and experience exponential growth. The pride they take in their work enhances the quality of workmanship the business outputs," the report said.
Another issue reported by study participants was the need to "prove" themselves by performing better than their male counterparts in order to earn respect in the workplace, despite having the same knowledge, skills and experience.
"Though they are willing to prove themselves by doing their jobs well, many indicated that they must demonstrate their abilities at a much higher level than their male peers in order to be viewed as equally competent," the report said.
TechForce said that employed women techs who are happy in their careers become advocates for the industry. At least 39% of women techs engage in efforts to support other women and promote the role of technician as a viable career path.
Once a business has hired technicians, retention is paramount to a company's success. Retaining technicians is much more cost effective than recruiting and hiring new employees, the report claimed.
High turnover rates lead to low employee morale and reduced productivity which can damage the business. Technicians often directly attribute their loyalty to an employer on the work culture. Culture can mean different things to different people.
Women techs view a positive work environment as one that promotes equity within the organization by paying them equal salaries based on experience, offering them the same benefits and advancing them at the same rates, the report said.
Lack of advancement opportunity as one of the most common reasons for leaving a job or the industry by women and men, the report said. Among study participants, 62.5% left an employer due to lack of advancement opportunities.
"Several trained technicians shared experiences of being pigeonholed into the role of lube tech for years, while simultaneously watching less-experienced male colleagues receive training, promotions and raises," the report said.
"Identifying and defining career paths is another important task employers must undertake to show women techs what their journey as a technician could look like. While this is important for all employees, it plays an even more essential role in women's careers since many women choose to become mothers, and pregnancy is not always conducive to working in a shop environment; however, it's important to note that while women techs acknowledge the difficulties of juggling work/life balance as a parent and technician, few want to be permanently moved to an office setting."
All women tech participants stressed the desire to continue training, expand their skills and be granted equal consideration for advancement opportunities.
"Nearly every woman we spoke to also cited apprenticeship and mentorship opportunities as imperative in their own careers and in promoting the transportation industry to younger women," TechForce said.