I hadn’t planned on writing a follow-up to my last column, but reader response was so strong, I felt compelled to continue the discussion on the Great American Technician Shortage. Actually, I’m going to let our readers write most of this column, but I can’t let the moment go without putting in my two cents’ worth.
Before I heard from so many people, I thought I had the answers to these questions: How do we keep qualified technicians working in the field; and how do we attract qualified technicians to the automotive aftermarket? Obviously, we need to provide more continued training, and more independent repair shops need to embrace the students coming out of vo-tech and automotive schools. Well, I guess the answer was not as obvious as I thought.
I received letters from technicians in more than 30 states, and each one had his/her own viewpoint on what should be done. A lot of times their opinions depended on the number of years of experience, and it also tended to be a little more negative if they had previous experience at a dealership. By and large the comments were divided into these categories: Continued training and education is critical and hard-to-come-by “A” students wouldn’t want this type of work; The pay scale and/or flat rate pay method is the real culprit; High cost of training, with the associated tools required is the real culprit; The overall image of the professional technician needs to be upgraded; and There is no technician shortage.
Now, let me share three letters from our readers:
“I read your article, and agree with you that something needs to be done, but do you really know what it takes to be a technician in this day and age? The amount of tools and equipment you need to buy every year to keep up with technology?
“You must continue your education forever. If you don’t keep up with the technology, you will fall behind. I agree the industry needs ‘A’ students, but why would someone so smart want to work in an industry that for the most part is dirty? Most shops someone would end up in will be cold in the winter and hot in the summer … I am a technician of 20 years and could go on and on about why I would not recommend this career. I read an article that said the average salary for a technician is $45,000. If I was an ‘A’ student, I think my salary goal would be lot higher. Compared to most other blue collar careers, the automotive industry is the worst. How about becoming a plumber or electrician? A lot less tools and usually a higher salary. Just a few things to think about the next time someone asks the annoying question. Thanks for your time.” — Hal
“Why should young people come into the automotive industry with a pay scale that doesn’t provide for their needs? Why would they be involved in this industry when many other professions offer better pay and benefits? Why would they want to buy all their tools and, in many instances, pay for ongoing training? (And the training is usually after hours or on weekends.) Why would someone with the brains to get As in school want such physically demanding and mentally stressful work?
“It won’t happen until the pay scale is brought more in line with other truly ‘professional’ professions. The shortage of highly skilled technicians will eventually drive up the compensations and benefit/incentive packages. Then it will grab the attention of school counselors and students. Yes, the students who can read well and write legibly, perform advanced math skills, understand the physics of electricity/electronics, the science behind combustion, and take pride in coming to work presentable to the public and employers are the ones we need in this industry. The problem is they are too smart to get involved in what we do.” — Eric Larsen, trainer/curriculum developer NADI, owner, Larsen Auto Repair, ASE Master L1 (31 years)
“I was one of those high school students that was told why do you want to go to an automotive trade school? You want to go to college. I went to a Catholic high school in the Chicagoland area that was more of a college prep school and we did not have any kind of ‘shop class.’ Sometimes I look back and say to myself, the college experience would have been nice, but I wanted to work on cars. I went to Lincoln Tech in Oak Lawn, and have been a tech for 13 years. I am 31 years old and master ASE certified with the L1 certification (Illinois emission certified also). I am very happy with what I am doing. Yeah, some days I want out of this profession, but I look back and remember some of the most complex problems that I have fixed. It satisfies me. Now I can say that I am not afraid of any problem out there and I can fix any driveability/electrical problem out there. Other shops even bring their problems to me to fix. For me to even think that someone else brings me their problems is something I can’t believe. I can’t believe that I have reached this point. Now if I would have listened to that counselor at my high school, who knows what I would have been doing. But I am very happy what I am doing. Just thought I would send my comments.” — Joe Zegarlinski, Jessup’s Auto
More “Technician Shortage” letters to come in the December issue of TechShop.