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How is the technician shortage impacting your business?

Monday, July 3, 2017 - 07:00
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The year is 1977. I had recently taken a job in the field of automotive service and repair as an entry technician after completing a program associated with the high school I was attending. While the auto mechanic’s program gave me the basic fundamentals, the true learning began with my foray into actual work as a “mechanic”, as we were labeled back then. I remember the myriad number of vacuum lines and the introduction of the catalytic converter, which only served to complicate basic “drivability” complaints that a “tune-up” may or may not fix. There was very limited use of OBD I.

I witnessed first hand many changes all around me. The Federal Clean Air Act was amended by Congress in 1977 to include the I/M Program by states held in non-compliance. First, with the EPA/EPD mandating the beginning phases of emission control, were the manufacturers’ response to the EPA’s call to reduce tail pipe emissions. This, following on the heels of the Big Three releasing some of their most potent and venerable engines made available to date: the Chrysler Hemi 426, the Ford 427, and the Chevrolet 396. These engines answered the public cry for “more power”, but they were not at all eco-friendly. My personal recollection was that the last of the killer high-horsepower engines were produced in 1970 - 1972. Manufacturer’s warranties were something like 24-months or 24,000 miles. Certainly, nothing as significant as the warranties provided in 2017.

The other mechanics in the shop were venting openly about the added complexity of electronic and vacuum-based emission controls. I don’t recall any of them owning a DVOM, let alone any type of scope with which to perform diagnostics. Of course, our shop had an older Sun Engine Analyzer. I was the only mechanic who took an interest in using the Sun Scope to assist me in diagnosing engine performance complaints. Even though there would not be formal emissions testing for many years to come (around 1995 in the 13-county metro Atlanta area), the “writing was on the wall”. There seemed to be an inevitable fallout of mechanics, who lamented that it was easier to swing a hammer or work as a plumber rather than “learn all that junk” under the hood of cars coming into our shop. Thus, began the exodus of mechanics from our industry. And it has continued unabated throughout the years since that time.

What is the Impact?

Now, it’s 2017. The shortage of qualified and well-trained, well-equipped technicians continues unabated. Many of the seasoned veterans are retiring or taking other positions in automotive service and repair which do not require 8-10 hours a day bent over the fender of a late model car complete with the complexities of electronic computer-controlled everything!

Exacerbating this shortage is the fact that all the technical schools combined are simply not turning out sufficient numbers of graduates to fill this ever-widening gap. According to the Automotive News Fixed Ops Journal, February 15, 2016, "The numbers are staggering," says Mark Davis, automotive programs manager at Seminole State College of Florida. The college's Associate in Applied Science degree program is a national curriculum leader that graduates about 100 technicians a year. There are Ford- and General Motors-certified tracks, as well as a generic import-brand track. Davis says Ford and GM estimate a need for a total of 15,000 new technicians for their U.S. dealerships over the next five years. Davis estimates the North American shortfall at more than 25,000 in that same time period.

"I don't think there are enough training institutions in the U.S. to keep up with the shortage," says Davis.

In the same publication, “industry analyst Harry Hollenberg concurs that the technician shortage is big and unlikely to change soon. Hollenberg is a founding partner at Carlisle & Co., a Concord, Mass., firm that collects and analyzes data for automakers.

Carlisle's most recent report on service technicians and advisers, released in 2014, found that an ongoing industry churn sees 20 percent of luxury-brand mechanics and 25 percent of volume-brand mechanics leave their jobs each year.

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