There seem to be more auto tech jobs than techs available right now– that’s for sure. It’s been that way for a while now. But there seems to be no end in sight to the worsening auto tech shortage.
A recent study by Wrench Way investigated this phenomenon and confirmed the auto tech shortage will only worsen. Their study concluded that…
- We will be short of 642,000 technicians by 2024
- 79%, or almost every 4 out of 5 techs, have thought of resigning
- Even worse, 69% of auto techs right now reported reaching burn-out
If these statistics scare you, which they should, then buckle up, because the road to recovery will be rough. But first, let’s look into the root causes of why these numbers exponentially increased. So then, we can develop and follow strategies to navigate ourselves out of this danger zone our industry entered.
What’s Driving The Auto Tech Shortage?
Multiple factors relevant to technicians currently in the trade contribute to the worsening auto tech shortage. Meanwhile, changes in our youth’s mindset are driving this scarcity at a high speed. Research indicates that the demand for auto techs will outpace supply on a 5 to 1 scale.
With more current techs leaving and fewer of the young generations entering the field, we are bound to run out. Which ultimately means the service department will come to a full stop altogether.
So let’s look into the driving forces steering current techs and our country’s youth away from this vital trade.
Auto Tech Shortage: What motivates current technicians to leave?
Cause 1: Auto Techs Feel Disrespected
Auto technicians don’t get respect from their bosses. Yet, they do the most to ensure productivity and efficiency in our service drives, powering through those never-ending ROs. It’s easy to forget about them through the constant hustle and bustle of the service drive.
Techs live in the back-end of the service department. So, most techs feel invisible, especially toward management. Considering that they have the most laborious and skill-demanding tasks, techs feel neglected. They’ll watch their managers congratulate and reward advisors for selling maintenance or alignments that they now have to get done.
Cause 2: Poor Working Conditions
Imagine this. You’re an auto technician in Florida where it’s hotter than Hades, what would be the most important thing to you? Probably the amenities inside the shop, such as working air conditioning in this scenario.
If you’re struggling in getting techs, stand up right now and walk into the techs’ work room. Look around and ask yourself, “What should this room look like?“
I was just at a shop in Virginia. They had free water and a drink vending machine in their shop. They also had an ice cream cooler, which I thought was really cool. These simple amenities can really support your techs by making them enjoy and value their working environment.
Cause 3: Negative Job Stigma
A lot of kids who would have been technicians now are programmers. They work with computers or something of the sort. But, they’re still fixing stuff. And they still work with their hands, which indicates the stigma has drastically changed from when we were young.
I’ve heard stories that confirm this. For example, a single auto tech sits at a bar and a pretty girl approaches him asking, “Hey! What do you do?” He’ll respond with “I’m a technician.” And the interaction just ends there. And they feel like the reason why the girl didn’t give her number is because he was a tech. Relevant to lacking respect for the job, it’s treated with the same attitude outside of the service department.
Remember, the technician is the beautiful blend of a kinesthetic person. Auto techs work with their hands, and still match the aptitude of lawyers and doctors. They’re really smart. And they’re really good with their hands. So they’re kind of a unicorn of a human.
Cause 4: Concerns Over Compensation
Technicians are the most important part of our business– their job requires the most education, knowledge, and skills out of the other roles in the service department. So why are they concerned about their pay? It doesn’t line up at all– they feel like they’re not getting paid enough, yet they generate the most money for the shop. And this is true when we calculate their ELR.
Let’s say, you’ve sold $8000 in CP labor and your tech flagged 8 hours of working in the shop. Assume for this situation the tech is working at 100% efficiency (flagging 8 hours for 8-hour workdays), which comes out to $1000 per day. The tech’s ELR is $1000, which roughly amounts to a $260,000 annually that they bring into the shop. So, they’re as smart as doctors and lawyers, but don’t make nearly the same amount as them.
Although always needed, the technician has recently been classified as an essential job due to the worsening shortage.
Cause 5: No Career Path
Techs don’t know where they’re headed. They think they’re just gonna change oil on the express lube for seven years. Beyond branching out into being a Service Advisor or going into parts, there’s little to no room for career development.
It would be great to see some sort of advancement system for technicians in the future beyond being a foreman. It would incentivize them to stay so they can grow within the field. Depending on the healthcare company or legal firm, doctors and lawyers are offered career advancements and are placed in ranks to encourage their professional growth. A career path that offers such little growth cannot even really be considered a career path at all.
Auto Tech Shortage: What demotivates today’s youth from entering?
We definitely have a challenge. The simple solutions, like adding amenities and fair compensation, cannot save our future. Ultimately, we need more long-term strategies in place if we want to build a stable future for our technicians. Immediate solutions can only provide immediate relief.
To end the auto tech shortage once and for all, the real question is, “(1) How can we not only change the negative stigma of auto techs, but also (2) how are we going to get younger kids (like 10 or 11 year-olds) to view our industry in a different light?”
How has the stigma changed since we were young?
There’s a lot that used to happen to us psychologically, that I don’t think we were conscious of when we were 10. But most of the time, we had posters on our wall of cool cars. Like you’d have a poster of a Corvette, Mustang, truck, or monster truck hanging on your bedroom wall. I remember I used to go watch the monster trucks and thought about how cool that was.
Today, there’s still a lot of kids out there that are into “The Fast and the Furious” and that sort of thing. But from an industry perspective, we’re losing that nostalgia, because we’re handing that to the movie industry. Because those kids that are interested in “The Fast and Furious” attribute it to a lifestyle, and not an auto tech. Pop culture has shifted the stigma by separating the association of cool cars to our industry. In which, they don’t associate the tuning of cool cars with being a technician.
Or, working on something mechanical, there’d be a tractor or a car or something that they were tearing apart and putting back together in the movie. There’s a feeling of accomplishment that comes with that process. You attach your identity to this achievement. These kids are watching it happen in a movie, but they’re not associating it with us as an industry.
How can we change the stigma back to what it used to be?
Kids always remember their first project. So that makes me think it’s possible to reach out to schools and teach it in that way. For example, we can teach a group of high school kids how to up-fit a car with Nitro. There are so many things we could do to try to piggyback off of pop culture.
I think that we should be going into the junior highs to have contests and create competitions where they can tune, modify, work on, or even code for a car, and then give away a big prize. And then they can get their picture taken with somebody important.
We already do that nationally, where there’s an overall country competition. Like, the spelling bee gets more attention than anything we do. And the spelling bee has no back end to it. But there could be a back end, we just have to change the way they feel.
Think about spelling bees, think about things that kids do, like sports, the World Series, Major League World Series, Little League World Series. All of these things have a huge following with kids. So how can we have that same effect on them? In a way where they associate our industry with freedom, because that’s what we associated with cars when we were kids– it was freedom from our parents. Now these kids have social media. They don’t need that. That’s the freedom for youth today.
Auto Tech Shortage: In short, our industry is changing and we need to change with it
There’s almost no limit to what we could or should spend to fix the problem. Only doubt and our imagination is stopping us. We’re in an industry that’s very scattered, though we have terrible leadership, we have a National Auto Dealers Association (NADA). But they just want to sell an event– they’re not really creating change or a narrative. There’s nobody really leading or representing the face for our industry anymore.
Elon Musk is the one breaking all the rules while everybody else sits idly by. They’re criticizing him and going off about how he can’t do this or that. And then they go, “Well, he did it.” Essentially, we’re reacting, instead of being ahead of it. And when you’re always in reactionary mode, it’s very expensive and very inefficient. We kind of get ahead of ourselves.
So, let’s be proactive by investing in our youth. The return will come out as an auto tech abundance and a sustainable future for our service departments and repair shops. We have to get our head in the game if we want to win as an industry.