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Automotive repair industry challenges are widespread

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 - 07:00
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A few months ago, I had the awesome opportunity to travel to Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Outside of the city hub is the community of Thornleigh, home to our Motor Age Training CONNECT partner, AutoMate.  

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One of the purposes of the trip was to film some video introducing Motor Age to their existing Australian subscribers and to introduce AutoMate to you, our faithful readers. Along the way, I had the opportunity to meet Aussie shop owners, technicians, educators and corporate reps. Invariably, the conversation drifted to the same topics they do here: the growing technician shortage, the challenges of staying current on technology and systems the OEMs are developing, the availability of training (of any kind) and other challenges faced by those in the automotive repair aftermarket. 

(Photo courtesy of AutoMate) It didn't take long for Pete to learn that Australian shop owners face the same challenges as those in the States — and more.

I found that we have way more in common than I thought. 

Keeping up in the U.S.

While I was halfway around the world, U.S.-based technicians were gathered for the annual VISION training conference, held in Overland Park, Kansas. VISION is one of many aftermarket training opportunities offered around the states. Others include A.T.E. (Automotive Training Expo) in Seattle, the TST “Big Event” in Tarrytown, New York and, of course, NACE Automechanika, to be held this year in Atlanta, Aug. 8-10. In addition to these major training events, corporate training departments like CarQuest Technical Institute, WORLDPAC, NAPA, Federal-Mogul and so many others are making training available to the aftermarket in dedicated training facilities or are “on the road” in local communities. And for those who can’t make it to a “live” event for whatever reason, there are web-based training opportunities held by several reputable organizations, including ours. 

In short, there is training available if you want to learn. The problem here in the states is an overall apathy among techs regarding training. Many seem to think they can continue to get by on skills learned years ago, and have – to some degree. But if your repair or service process results in a premature system or component failure, how do you know? If your repair simply failed, how do you know? The customer doesn’t always come back to complain; they just seek another repair shop.  

Sometimes, it’s because a tech doesn’t know what he or she doesn’t know. Unfortunately, in a few cases, it’s more a matter of “I don’t care what I don’t know.” 

Recently, a noted corporate training manager and I were talking about this very topic when the light bulb went off. It’s not the fault of the techs alone, shop owners play a huge role in creating this culture of apathy. I’ve heard so many times that “my boss won’t give me the time off” or “won’t pay for the training” or any of 100 other comments just like these.  

The attendees who turned out for Automechanika in 2015 and again in 2017 were, overall, techs who had never attended any kind of training event in their lives but could then because we made it affordable. And more importantly, they were “hungry” to learn – engaging their instructors, offering their own experiences and asking probing questions. It proved to me and a few others what I had felt from the start – that the majority of technicians in this country want to learn, want to grow and want to make a better life for themselves and their families. But many lack the resources or the knowledge of how to do this. That’s where the boss comes in —  a lesson reinforced by one of the Aussie shop owners I met with. 

Keeping up in Australia 
David Proglio is the owner of McGrath Hills Automotive, a European specialty shop not far from the AutoMate studios. I asked David what his thoughts were on training as a shop owner and as a technician. He absolutely believed in the need to stay trained and to continue his and his team’s technical education. But he also shared that live training events were few and far between there, and many of those that were offered were more “infomercial” than “informational.” He relies on internet services to provide him with the resources he and his two line technicians (“tradesmen” in Australia) need to stay current. I was pleased to hear he and his team enjoyed our webinars and Trainer videos and that he is a participating member of iATN, the International Automotive Technicians Network. 

An Australian landmark recognized around the world, the famous Sydney Opera House, as seen from the harbor ferry.
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