‘Road to great technicians’ is paved with OEM blueprint
New Orleans—The dearth of young, career-hungry aftermarket technicians and professionals continues to loom as the industry’s core of its aging demographic nears retirement. There are mounting efforts to change that, however, through collaboration and shining a spotlight on the aftermarket’s numerous career opportunities.
“People enter our industry for various reasons without a clear understanding of the opportunities available,” said Jill Saunders, Engineer Tech Info & Diagnostics, Toyota Motor Sales, during the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) Spring 2017 General Meeting.
Many auto service professionals’ careers begin with a limited career plan and, as a result, the aftermarket is not attracting the best and the brightest, she said. “Many shops are focused on hiring qualified talent, not developing talent and keeping it. We have to do a better job of showing prospective technicians a road to a successful career.”
NASTF Chair Mark Saxonberg, principal of SCS, who moderated the featured discussion, “Building a Road to Great Technicians,” said standards and a structure to develop new talent is needed, which will offer new progressions in training.
“When young folks come into the industry, they should be provided a road map of different opportunities in the aftermarket, whether it’s in service technology, shop ownership, quality assurance engineering or instructional design — these should all be communicated.”
Funding needed to support existing programs, not new ones
Rob Morrell, training director for WORLDPAC and NASTF Education Committee Independent co-chair, said that, to date, OEMs have provided the majority of funding support for training programs, while the aftermarket needs to “step up and help on their part.”
“We don’t need more programs,” he said, “we need more funding for existing programs so they’re better marketed and understood throughout the industry and to help develop standards for different levels of training.”
Those standards would include generic entry-level programs; establishment of work-study programs for aftermarket technicians in partnership with aftermarket entities, such as independent repair shops; and an aftermarket-focused “in service” curriculum designed to support a technician development hierarchy and establish skill-level guidelines for growth and promotion.
“If students understand what careers are available and we can show them a path with each step along the way, then we’ll attract higher-level talent,” Morrell said.
NASTF suggests the aftermarket emulate OEM technician development models by leveraging existing resources.
Using the OEM training blueprint
Taking a lesson from OEM technician development program playbook would include using and leveraging existing AYES schools and current OE partner post-secondary institutions, and establishing a minimum curriculum guideline for entry-level and in-service technicians.
While mirroring OEM training models would benefit the aftermarket, there are “enormous” challenges, said Rick Lester, manager of Toyota’s T-TEN (Technician Education Network) program. “New standards would have to be adopted. Specifically, the aftermarket’s funding streams and how they’re structured.”
The National Automotive Technician’s Education Foundation (NATEF) provides a base standard for what a college automotive program should deliver to produce an individual ready for an entry level position, whether it’s aftermarket or OE, Lester said, who added that NATEF serves as the initial foundation for all of Toyota’s programs. “We must understand the gap between what all colleges are presently delivering to the aftermarket and what the aftermarket needs them to deliver — that’s one of the first steps to take.”
There are many post-secondary institutions that are teaching automotive technology, of which about 600 are NATEF-accredited at the master level, said Trish Serratore, president of NATEF. “That’s the minimum standard, but it might not be everything the industry needs — the schools don’t know that until the industry tells them. It’s a challenge for colleges to define what is missing and what needs to be enhanced.”
Failure to develop aftermarket technicians in an organized and structured manner will result in a significant shrinkage of automotive technology programs, she said. Not only is the industry facing a shortage of technicians, but also a shortage of instructors. They are retiring faster than the technicians and it’s often the case that when an instructor retires, a program falters or fails.
“Just as we’re witnessing a consolidation of aftermarket businesses and repair facilities, we’re going to experience a consolidation and closure of automotive programs if we don’t support them and take a stronger role in helping interested technicians become instructors,” she said. “It’s also a big pay cut, so we’re going to have to figure out a way to support the best.”
A greater challenge, Serratore added, is finding an aftermarket business that is willing to take the time and energy to work with college instructors and interns. “If it’s a small business, it’s hard to find the time and resources to take on an intern effectively. We have more students than we have internships, while also having businesses that seek interns — we have to make those connections.”
Chris Chesney, senior director Customer Training at Advance Auto Parts, agreed. “The aftermarket needs added effort in assisting shop owners with internships, such as becoming involved with their local high school advisory council and challenging instructors to meet their needs. The same measures that OEMs support in their training initiatives must be done in the aftermarket.”
Leading the charge won’t likely be industry associations, as they serve their own members, don’t have the necessary funding or expertise, and “it’s not their place to do it,” Chesney said. “However, it’s their place to support those who do it, and those that do will be organizations that touch every shop in the country, which will mean suppliers, particularly parts suppliers, because of the scale of the problem and the enormous infrastructure they have.”
The industry is also fighting to retain people who enter the aftermarket. NADA workforce studies during the past two years illustrate a problem new car dealerships have keeping young technicians, Lester said. “Today’s young techs represent the highest generational numbers entering the industry, of which the majority are entering the service side. But they also disproportionately represent the highest number of individuals leaving the industry. Highly skilled technicians aren’t getting the respect they need and deserve, which is an issue employers need to address — do they award performance, acknowledge acquiring additional credentials, are they being recognized? It’s a definite problem, especially when you consider techs are a service facility’s most valuable asset.”
Overall, the broad issue of developing standards and a structure isn’t going to be an easy problem for the industry to solve, but it’s one that it’s going to have to solve, Saxonberg said. “Twenty-first century vehicles are going to require 21st century technicians meeting 21st century standards.”