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There's no shortage of solutions for the tech shortage

Thursday, August 29, 2019 - 07:00
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Do a quick internet search for “auto technician shortage” and you’ll come up with more than 2 million results, many of which are people merely talking about the existence of a shortage. Unfortunately, the solutions are absent from most of these mentions. Some of the headlines use phrases such as “chronic shortage,” “high demand,” “scrambling for technicians,” “shortage crisis,” and “shortage may mean more expensive repairs.” Is that last headline enough to make the average person notice?

The largest unsolved problem faced by the automotive industry is the growing technician shortage. It’s not a new problem. It has been a long, slow-moving situation that was predicted for decades. But as with many predictions, many hoped it wouldn’t happen. Turning a blind eye is something people do when they don’t want to face a problem.

But now’s the time. Only over the past couple of years has the industry recognized that this shortage has reached crisis levels. The shortage is now firmly established and is an issue automotive businesses must accept and address. As an industry, those in automotive must recognize that the worker shortage both has no easy answer and is not going away.

How bad is it?

The technician shortage is discussed at every auto service, collision repair, and heavy-duty/diesel event. It is covered regularly in not just trade press publications; it makes national news in conventional consumer journalism. Why? Because everyone has a vested interest: most people have a car and they all need those vehicles repaired.

Obviously, this topic is mentioned whenever conversations are had with or about automotive-related career tech education (CTE) programs. But the truth is that all skilled trades are suffering from a shortage. In its June 2019 job openings and labor turnover summary, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were nearly 7.4 million job openings in April. According to the Association for Career & Technical Education, more than 80 percent of manufacturers report a talent shortage, nearly half of talent recruiters at Fortune 1000 companies report trouble finding qualified candidates with a two-year STEM degree, and between now and 2024, 48 percent of all job openings will require education beyond high school but less than a four-year degree.

According to the TechForce Foundation’s “Technician Supply and Demand Report Update for Fall 2018,” in 2017, the demand for new technicians was nearly 138,000. The number of 2017 post-secondary graduates numbered nearly 56,000. This leaves a shortage of more than 82,000 for the automotive service, collision repair, and heavy-duty/diesel industry segments.

These numbers assume that 100 percent of post-secondary graduates in all three segments enter the automotive trades upon graduation. In fact, some of those graduates will not enter the industry at all. This shortage must be offset by high school CTE graduates directly entering the industry (skipping post-secondary school), as well as other technician candidate sources, such as returning military or unskilled, untrained individuals to enter the transportation trades.

Why is it such a struggle?

Specific to the automotive industry, what are the struggles?

  • Baby boomers (those people born between 1946 and 1964) are retiring and taking decades of skills and experience working in shops with them. There are about 76 million boomers in the United States, representing nearly 30 percent of the population.
  • Educational programs are struggling to stay ahead of vehicle technology, especially in a two-year high school. But even post-secondary career technical education (CTE) programs often lag behind technologically. This is particularly true given the significant budget reductions that CTE programs have faced. Also, CTE programs have for years been struggling to find qualified instructors.
  • More and more high school students are pressured to pursue 4-year college degrees instead of career readiness or trade skills programs, despite research that says students who take advanced CTE courses in high school see higher earnings.
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