"What we're seeing is that the kids in high school and college often know more about what goes on at a modern dealership than the person who's supposed to be offering them career guidance," Patton-Pace says. "To reach those young people, we now realize we're going to have to change the ideas that the adults in their life have."
Mostly, the campaign will be an educational challenge. The group has created a Web site, autoretailing.org, to be a clearinghouse for job information for the industry, Patton-Pace says.
The redesigned site, which will launch Feb. 18, will connect readers to employment materials from all of the automakers, as well as public relations material about what an automotive career offers.
National technical certification groups will post material on how to become a certified technician and how to talk to a trainer to get more information.
But the mission is not merely to enhance retailing public relations, Patton-Pace says. It is also to generate job candidates.
During this year's NADA convention, Auto Retailing Today will unveil another plan for battle: a link with the U.S. military.
The military already is a huge training ground for automotive technicians. Military vehicle technicians receive ASE certification in the same sort of work that dealerships need to have performed.
According to Patton-Pace, the new military linkup will create a natural flow of candidates, giving retailers access to trained technicians who may be looking for civilian opportunities while creating a new job avenue for the military's outplacement services.
The campaign, dubbed Hire the Hero, will get under way during the NADA convention, at which Army and Marine Corps representatives will help staff the Auto Retailing Today convention booth.
Auto Retailing Today also is creating media materials that will go to school guidance offices around the country.
The biggest hurdle retailers have is the image of the business as an unpleasant environment. Through the schools, Auto Retailing Today hopes to convey a sense that auto dealerships offer good salaries, decent benefits and intellectual stimulation, Patton-Pace says.
"The teenage child in a family that recently purchased a new vehicle is probably pretty well keyed into the reality of life at a modern-day dealership," she says. "Anyone who has been into a dealership lately knows that we're not talking about dark, run-down work environments. Service shops aren't grease pits.
"We've got to reach beyond the people who have an out-of-date perception of the business and the career possibilities." M
Lindsay Chappell is an Automotive News staff reporter