November-December

28 So, how do we fix this? How do we as an industry not only attract new talent, but also keep that which we have? The short answer is accountability. From the tech schools recruiting students to the dealerships managing workers up to the automakers setting warranty repair times, there must be greater communication and integrity among all parties if anything is to change. System failings need to be acknowledged, evaluated, and addressed accordingly. Honest Recruiting In an article last year about the lack of automotive technicians, TheNewYork Times said, according to Robert Paganini, president of the Mahwah, NJ campus of the Lincoln Technical Institute, “Top-level technicians in the field can earn $100,000 a year after achieving master mechanic status and five years of experience.” If crickets could chirp on a page, you likely just heard them. $100,000…per year. If these are the salary projections trade schools are dangling in front of prospective students, it’s no wonder there’s such high turnover rate in the field. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual wage for automotive service technicians andmechanics, as of May 2017, was $39,550. For some highly-skilled workers in certain parts of the country, it’s definitely possible to break the $100K mark, but the average dealership mechanic is banking a much more modest income. Enticing young candidates with outlier salaries without real world correlations is downright irresponsible, especially when they graduate from tech school and find themselves struggling in a flat-rate pay system to cover tool costs, student loans, and general life expenses. Young people interested in the automotive field should be encouraged to explore programs at their local community colleges, staying cautious of for-profit technical schools. The Washington Post reported last year that education officials found for-profit colleges sorely lacking in providing their students with gainful employment. In fact, of the roughly 803 programs that failed to meet federal thresholds, 98% were offered by for- profit schools with 2% offered by non-profit private schools. None of the community college programs failed. Healthy Work Environment As the shortage of skilled workers persists, many technical programs are making a concerted effort to market to the female demographic—a hugely untapped market for employee recruitment. Representing over half theU.S. population, womenmake up less than 1% of dealership technicians. While that gender disparity is likely attributed to the grueling physical labor traditionally required, some of it falls on shop environment. Automotive News reports, “For many shops, industry observers say that culture hasn’t changed much since the mid-20th century— mostly male, sometimes crude. The obsolete image of the ‘grease monkey’ too often persists, despite determined industry efforts to eradicate it.” As schools and automakers entice students and their parents by placing automotive education further into the realm of STEM, dealerships and shops should be prepared to hire new technicians who expect a hospitable work environment that doesn’t discriminate based on outdated stereotypes. In an interview with 41 Action News, John Schupp, the owner of Sci-Tech Automotive in Rayton, Missouri, said, “If you’re smart enough to fix cars today, some of which have 30 and 40 computers onboard, you’re smart enough to be a network engineer or a computer programmer, all manner of well-paying jobs.” Jobs that usually come with steady pay, benefits, a 401K, and an air-conditioned office. If convincing young people to consider trade jobs is difficult, convincing them to become an auto mechanic is downright laborious. This means dealerships will need to reevaluate methods of compensation if they want to stand up to competing fields. Realistic Expectations Modern vehicles are incredibly complex beasts, but automakers continue to set strict warranty repair times with little wiggle room for technicians. These estimates are often set by engineers who eat, sleep, and breathe a particular model, and don’t take into considerationhowmany different applications the average dealership mechanic has to work with in one particular day. Additionally, those rates apply to cars in goodworking condition. If an auto tech is only given two hours to complete a job and spends 20 minutes wrestlingwith rusted bolts before he can even access the part that’s causing the problem, how is he supposed to break even on the job? Automakers need to take technician feedback to heart and set more realistic timelines for complicated repair jobs if theywant to see any kind of worker retention in the years to come. What Can You Do? In the meantime, dealerships can combat this stress by offering technicians incentives to stick around. Show them that your shop or service department is a productive environment. Automotive News suggests “asking technicians where they want to be in 5 and 10 years” and then helping them get there. Tool discounts, school credit reimbursement, advancement opportunities, and even just a simple system of recognizing hard work can all go a long way toward employee retention. Some dealerships have instituted supplemental pay plans to ensure their employees aren’t getting shortchanged by the flat-rate system. Even small changes like refocusing training efforts and properly assessing talent can help place the right employees in the right areas, ensuring higher morale and greater productivity. Say what you want about the millennial workforce, but they are the future—and they’re shrewd. They know that if they possess the skills to cut it as an automotive technician, they can probably cut it as an engineer or computer programmer and get paid more to work less. When McDonalds is starting at $12/hour with absolutely no skills required, it’s hard to justify tens of thousands of dollars in schooling, tools, and ongoing certifications for amechanical job that might not hire you at much more per hour. This may be one of the few instances in life where throwing money at a problem can help. Otherwise, consumers will find themselves selecting a daily driver not for features and luxury, but based on who can actually fix it.

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