Thanks for voicing a major concern that’s shared by many of your peers. I could dig back in my archives and find a 1997 e-mail that asked the same question. Back then, I was asked to lead a panel at the International Autobody Congress & Exposition (NACE) on “Where Are Our Future Technicians Coming From?” In 2007, I led another NACE panel on the exact same topic. This old issue is still very much with us.
I may have answered this question a bit differently five or 10 years ago, maybe a little softer or less direct. I remember about 10 years ago that Jenny Larges, head of the Collision Technician Apprenticeship Program (C-TAP) in the Baltimore/Washington area, had to close the program and wrote an open letter to the industry expressing her frustration over everyone complaining about the shortage of technicians yet not taking advantage of programs like hers and Mentors At Work. After writing about it and speaking about it many times over the past 10 years, I can relate to her frustration – because nothing has changed.
With regard to your question, if I were an attorney in a courtroom, I would jump to my feet and yell, “Objection! Asked and answered!” So I’m going to turn the table on you. Have you read all the BodyShop Business articles on this challenge? Later in this article are no less than 11 links to stories addressing this very issue just in the past seven years!
What have you and your peers done to reach out to young people in your community? What have you done to make your shop the employer of choice in your market? Do you serve on the local technical school’s advisory committee? Have you done demonstrations at the school, hosted open houses or offered structured apprenticeship programs? Do you have a graphic career ladder complete with earning potential for each wrung of the ladder that you can share with potential new hires? Are you recruiting all the time? Have you met with employer representatives at your local career one-stop center? Have you established a relationship with your local Veteran’s Affairs representative?
Perhaps you have suitable answers to some of these questions. But in all the years I’ve been in this industry, I’ve yet to see one shop that had good answers to even half of these questions when first asked – with the possible exception of 911 Collision Centers in Tucson, Ariz.
The Blame Game
Sure, we can blame the youth of today for not wanting to work or blame schools for not producing enough quality candidates. But the fact is that our industry has done a very poor job of marketing itself at any level. What did we expect? For people to flock to our door? I see other industries reaching out and promoting themselves, sponsoring community events, attending career fairs, networking, paying for new employee training and more. Yet most shops in our industry sit on the bench watching the game, pointing the finger of blame at anyone but themselves.
Yes, this take is a bit harsh, but if you want the same ol’ same ol’, just take your pick of the excellent suggestions and success stories provided in the past few years in BodyShop Business. This isn’t new stuff.
The truth is that many young people regularly watch TV shows like “Overhaulin’,” “Car Crazy,” “Dream Car Garage,” “Pinks,” “Pimp My Ride” and “Unique Whips.” Many are interested in cars, but the mechanical shops get them because…wait for it…they try! They recruit, serve on advisory committees, share their career paths, pay for training and more.
High school training programs have limited time with young people. You’re right, some students do attend just to get out of class. But in every class, there’s an average of three to five students who would really love to work on cars. Upon graduation, these students come out knowing a little about many things but are masters of nothing. If they happen to land in a local shop, does that shop have an apprenticeship system or do new employees get thrown to the wolves to be chewed up and spit out? The industry loses an estimated seven out of 10 new hires because most shops have no game plan for moving them into their organizations. In most shops, there’s no structure, mentor training or accountability for developing new talent. There are no creative pay plans for giving new hires an incentive to earn while they learn.
While insurers may share a portion of the blame, as long as some shops are willing to give things away, labor rates or who gets paid for what won’t change. But check this out: GEICO offered grants to shops in the Washington, D.C, market for training new apprentices. They offered to pay a percentage of an apprentice’s wages for an entire year. Do you know what one of their biggest challenges was? Getting shops to apply for the free money. Ridiculous!
A couple years ago, I personally gathered over 150 names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers of students in the Bay area of California who were interested in working in our field. I promoted this list to a couple hundred shops and got zero responses. Zero! In California, Mentors At Work teamed up with the California Auto Body Association to offer a registered apprenticeship program complete with grants to help offset some of an apprentice’s wages. And guess what? Only a few enlightened shops took advantage of that. Tech shortage indeed!
The answers to your question have been given over and over in the past. Here are the articles I mentioned at the beginning of this article that you should review:
Hydrate Your Business by Mark Claypool, December 2008.
You Get What You Give by Jason Stahl, December 2008.
Eliminate the Fear Factor by Mark Claypool, September 2008.
Developing Tomorrow’s Staff by Jeff Koykar, Sr., December 2007.
Mentoring Works by James Rossman, September 2005.
Send Me Your Best Student: Partnering with Vo-Tech Schools by Mark Claypool, May 2004.
Training Techs: A Guide for the Do-It-Yourselfer by Mark Claypool, June 2003.
Scaring Off New Recruits by Mark Claypool, April 2003.
Web Browser: Mentors At Work by Cheryl McMullen, November 2002.
May the (Work)Force Be With You by Mark Claypool, May 2002.
The Case of the Disappearing Tech by Mark Claypool, April 2002.
Have you read any of these articles? Did you take any of the advice offered over the years by these various authors? If not, the mirror will most likely reveal who’s responsible for the situation you find yourself in.
BSB Contributing Editor Mark Claypool is the vice president of operations for VeriFacts Automotive and the founder of Mentors At Work (now a division of VeriFacts) and Select Tech Professional Services. He has 25 years of experience in the fields of workforce development, business education partnerships and apprenticeships. Claypool is the former executive director of the I-CAR Education Foundation and the National Auto Body Council (NABC). He was the national director of development for SkillsUSA/VICA and serves, on a volunteer basis, as the TeamUSA Leader for the WorldSkills Championships.