DETROIT -- To meet growing demand for service technicians, auto dealerships must hire 35,000 per year through 2010, the U.S. Labor Department estimates.
New-vehicle dealerships employed 258,100 technicians last year, the National Automobile Dealers Association says. Obsolete public perceptions often hamper efforts to recruit service technicians, industry officials say.
Many high school students and their parents continue to buy into "grease monkey" stereotypes. Setting the record straight is the task of Automotive Youth Educational Systems, or AYES.
AYES works with more than 400 high schools across the country to promote careers in automotive service. The organization was created in 1995, and places aspiring technicians in internships at dealerships after their junior year.
AYES is supported by NADA and 14 automakers. It works with school counselors and teachers to get the word out about service technicians' $30,000 annual starting salaries, high skill levels and job security.
Working as a service technician "is not being up to your elbows in grease all day," says Roger Foss, national field support manager of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. Foss attended AYES' annual conference in suburban Detroit last month.
Instead, Foss told Automotive News: "It's working in a clean environment in a white lab coat. We're typically replacing components rather than overhauling a vehicle."
AYES graduates usually apply to training programs run by individual automakers. If they're accepted, they study for about two years.
Demand continues to exceed supply. Toyota and Lexus dealers need to hire as many as 4,000 technicians a year to keep pace with Toyota Motor's growth, Foss says. Last year, he adds, the company's technical training program graduated 800 technicians.
General Motors' post-secondary Automotive Service Education Program graduated about 750 technicians last year, says Peter Lord, executive director of GM Service Operations. But GM estimates that its dealerships must hire 7,500 technicians each year, Lord says.
"It's in our interest to keep the pipeline full and get dealers involved," Lord says. Technicians who take part in programs such as AYES are more likely to remain loyal to the dealerships that hire them, he adds.
Despite the partnership of NADA and AYES, only about 40 percent of new-vehicle dealerships offer internships to AYES students.
"We've got some more work to do in the way of educating dealers," says NADA Chairman William Bradshaw, who attended the AYES conference. Some dealers like to hire technicians from other dealerships, Bradshaw says, because "it's quick and easy," Instead, he says, NADA encourages dealerships to take part in training programs and develop their own technicians.
You may e-mail Laura Clark Geist at [email protected]