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The technician shortage is not new – it has been a trending topic in the industry for more than 30 years. After two and a half years into a pandemic that changed the world in many ways, this common conversation has taken on even greater urgency than before.
According to TechForce Foundation’s 2021 Supply & Demand Report, demand for technicians nearly doubled in the past year – from 136,503 in 2020 to 258,000 in 2021. Last year demand outpaced supply by nearly three to one; now it is estimated to be five to one.
I spoke with three different automotive instructors to get a better idea of why students might not be joining the industry after school, or, if they already have joined, what’s making them leave. With one instructor based in Florida, another in Alabama, and the third in Connecticut, there were several common themes when it came to this topic despite their different locations.
While there were also some varying opinions on things, one thing they were all especially united on was this; low wages continue to contribute to the technician shortage at a dangerous rate.
“There must be a shift in pay,” says Roxanne Amiot, CTECS Automotive department head at Bullard-Havens Technical High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “We’re expecting these kids to put in physical work, mental diagnostic abilities and have the ability to use high tech equipment.”
A common misconception people have is that technicians are not smart. The reality is that these technicians have critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are better than the average person.
“Some of these students are being paid entry-level pay that’s equivalent to what they can earn with something that is less strenuous and less work,” Amiot says. “They need to see a pay raise, a growth chart of some sort, or we’ll keep losing them quick.”
With the pandemic sparking a trend in resignations in several industries, grocery stores, restaurants, fast-food joints, and hotels began offering perks. From higher wages and education benefits, to cash bonuses and even free iPhones, companies scrambled to find new hires as the economy reopened and customers returned.
Michael Broud, the automotive instructor at Brevard County Schools in Palm Bay Florida noted the fact that many fast-food restaurants have local dealerships beat with starting wages.
“The dealerships want somebody who doesn’t have any bad habits, who is enthusiastic, comes with all the skills,” Broud says.
“Rather than harbor that with 16- and 17-year old’s fresh in the field, they want them to wait until they’re 18 and then pay them $10 an hour, when in this economy and in this location, kids are making $13 to $15 an hour screwing people’s burger up all day long.”
Technicians will typically experience the biggest challenges early on in their careers. During this time, they are learning and perfecting their skills. It’s also the time when they aren’t seeing their efforts compensated with comparable paychecks.
“Employers have to come to the table with more. I get it, that costs a shop money, but they’re looking at the short-term dollar and not the long-term technician. I have a perfect stream of a half dozen students, boys and girls, who would work if they were offered a decent wage and a package that said, ‘If you stay with us for X amount of time and do X, Y, and Z, we are going to ensure that you get A, B and C. Here it is in writing.’ That’s all these kids need,” says Broud.
Something else to take into consideration as vehicle complexity increases, service technicians are required to continually upgrade their tools. As vehicles become more computerized, the tools have also become more complicated and expensive, requiring techs to invest more in tools just to stay current.
Michael Craig, the automotive instructor at the Walker County Center of Technology in Jasper, Alabama has seen his students struggle to make ends meet due to the inflation of the economy coupled with low wages offered at local dealerships and independent shops.
“I have three gentlemen working in dealerships right now that are also working second and third jobs just so they can afford to have that job at a dealership,” Craig says. “We’ve got gas right now today at $4 and some cents. Do you think they’re giving the dealership their full attention? They’re not.”
Craig says that, for these students (and likely many others,) it’s not connecting. “It’s just not adding up. These dealerships must revisit this or else it’ll truly just get very ugly, quickly.”
On March 10, gasoline at U.S. pumps hit a record for highest average price, with regular gas costing $4.32 a gallon and diesel $5.06 a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association. If a worker earning minimum wage fills a 12-gallon tank of gas today, it will cost them almost an entire day’s pay.
As an industry, it’s our job to solve problems reported by our customers. Part of that problem-solving condition also requires us to work together to bring to light the situations contributing to the technician shortage. This is the first part of a three-part multimedia series that takes a closer look into some of the common themes and contributions behind the technician shortage, from an automotive instructor’s perspective.
To follow along the series, follow Tomorrow’s Technicians social media platforms.