Tackling the Technician Shortage

Feb. 11, 2020

"Good help is hard to find.” Have you been muttering these words under your breath a lot lately? Maybe you’ve been shouting them from the rooftop of your stores?

The good news is, you’re not alone.

The bad news? Finding good help — especially young auto service technicians — will only get harder as demand continues to exceed supply and older techs age out of the workforce.

What are you doing to tackle the tech shortage at your dealership?

John Marshall, vice president of Grismer Tire Co., a 27-location dealership based in Dayton, Ohio, says there’s no silver bullet that will entirely solve the problem.

But that hasn’t stopped him from looking for new talent in different places — with great success.

Over the last several years, Marshall and his management team have devoted a significant amount of time to educating high school principals, teachers and students about career opportunities in automotive service. 

“It started when I was having a conversation with a member of the local school board,” he says. “They were intrigued and invited us to talk with some of the high schools in the Dayton area that have automotive service programs.”

Their efforts were well-received.

Schools are now sending auto service students to work part-time at Grismer Tire stores, where they can gain real-world experience, according to Marshall.“And in the summer, students can work quite a bit more,” he says. “Then, if they like the occupation, we have a program that will help pay for their education at a trade school. They commit to work for us for a certain amount of time and we reimburse their tuition.”

One participating school is Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, which places students in paying apprenticeships at Grismer Tire stores. (The school offers four associate degree programs in automotive technology.)

“During year one, a student might attend classes in the morning and then work every afternoon at a Grismer Tire store, Monday through Friday,” says Justin Morgan, chair of Sinclair’s auto technology school. “In year two of the program, they will work at Grismer Tire in the morning and then take classes in the afternoon. And we make sure they work alongside a mentor,” usually a more experienced tech.

This gives students the opportunity to learn new, more complex skills in a controlled, systematic way, he notes. “If students just change oil for two years, they’ll never progress.”

Many Sinclair students have graduated to full-time positions at Grismer Tire locations and are making a handsome living.

“We’ve had quite a few who started out in the program and are now master technicians,” says Marshall. “One is achieving income of over $100,000 a year.”

What’s more, the program has not seen any dropouts, he adds.

Why do auto service students make great hires? Morgan offers several reasons:

  • Drive. “When students enroll in our program, they’re seeking us out,” he says. “They’re looking for education and training. They want to be here and are investing in their own future.”
  • Trainability. “Most of the time, high school and community college auto service students haven’t acquired any bad habits. Many of them haven’t worked at other repair facilities.”
  • Non-threatening status. “They want to learn. They’re not trying to take senior-level jobs.”

What’s working for Grismer Tire can work for you, he adds.

“Reach out to your local high school automotive service instructor or community college. Get involved with their advisory committees. Participate in their career fairs. Have a presence. Show an interest.”

Grismer Tire’s Marshall is happy that his company did.

“Students couldn’t pick a better profession than automotive service,” he says. “The opportunities are unbelievable and the security of this profession is well-assured.”

Too little emphasis is placed on careers in skilled trades these days, he explains. “The idea that auto service is dirty work is just not so. It’s mentally challenging. The computers and systems on cars today are just mind-boggling.”

“A lot of bright, young people might not want to go to college for a traditional, four-year degree,” says Marshall. “Automotive service offers an incredible opportunity to make a very, very fine living. You’re not going to send your car to China to be repaired. We have a big need for auto service techs.”

Maybe it’s time to start building your own pipeline to the auto service techs of tomorrow?  ■

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at [email protected].

About the Author

Mike Manges | Editor

Mike Manges is Modern Tire Dealer’s editor. A 25-year tire industry veteran, he is a three-time International Automotive Media Association award winner and holds a Gold Award from the Association of Automotive Publication Editors. Mike has traveled the world in pursuit of stories that will help independent tire dealers move their businesses forward. Before rejoining MTD in September 2019, he held corporate communications positions at two Fortune 500 companies and served as MTD’s senior editor from 2000 to 2010.