Dealers last year found it slightly easier to find technicians and keep them on the job, the National Automobile Dealers Association says.
On a scale of 1 (easy) to 10 (difficult), dealers rated the difficulty of finding technicians at 7.5 last year, down from 7.9 in 2000.
The survey also showed improvements in employee retention. Half of the technicians have been employed at their dealership for more than three years, up from 46 percent the previous year. On average, 13 percent of technicians were employed for fewer than six months, compared with 15 percent a year earlier.
Last year was the second year NADA did the survey. The results are based on 650 responses.
Layoffs and hiring freezes in the tech sector have prodded high school students who might have headed toward the computer industry to become automotive technicians, said Paul Taylor, NADA's chief economist. Tech workers who have been laid off also are seeking jobs in automotive service.
"The unemployment rate for workers in many service-related industries has risen by 2 or 3 percentage points during the past 12 months," Taylor said.
Dealers say training programs also have increased the number of qualified, entry-level technicians. But they say experienced mechanics are hard to find.
Mike Shore, president of Sharp Ford in Indianapolis, for example, said he has hired a few entry-level mechanics through a Ford Motor Co. training program.
"But it is still bad," Shore said. "We still have bays that don't have technicians."
Dealerships selling European makes have the most trouble finding qualified technicians, the survey said. Dealers in the Northeast, where the job market is tighter, also are having trouble recruiting mechanics.