DETROIT -- FCA US will launch a program this month to help dealers cope with a nationwide shortage of service technicians and a surge in recall work.
The program, which begins nationwide on Jan. 15, allows lower-level service techs to perform -- and be paid for -- warranty work above their certified skill level.
The catch: The techs may work only one level above their certification and must be in training to achieve the next level certification.
The national technician exemption program is part of the automaker's strategy to deal with an industrywide shortage of qualified techs that is costing dealers business, said John Fox, the automaker's director of dealer training. FCA US is the new name of Chrysler Group.
"We're going to be short about 5,000 technicians in our dealerships between now and 2018, and I'm not sure that number isn't light," Fox said. "Most dealers could hire two additional techs today and have plenty of work for them to do."
Service techs working in FCA US dealerships are categorized into four levels: Level Zero for beginners to Level Three for the most highly skilled technicians, Fox said.
When a consumer brings a vehicle in for warranty work, the automaker classifies the job by the technician skill level required to complete it successfully, and compensates the dealership accordingly, he said. The vast majority of warranty work -- perhaps as high as 80 or 90 percent -- requires Level Two or below to complete.
The exemption program will allow a Level One technician, for instance, to complete and be paid for Level Two work, so long as the technician was working toward his Level Two certification, Fox said.
Fox said the program enables technicians to earn more money faster after being hired at a dealership. That should give FCA US dealerships an advantage as employers over competing auto service providers, Fox said.
A starting technician can earn as much as $40,000 annually, depending on a variety of factors, Fox said, while a top-level diesel mechanic or other highly qualified technician can earn more than $100,000 annually, depending on location.
In early 2014, the company launched a program to help dealers recruit technicians from competing dealerships, but the program was cumbersome and didn't achieve its goals, Fox said.
To help alleviate the backlog of warranty and recall work, FCA US will make the exemption program retroactive to July 1, 2014. Fox said the retroactivity immediately adds 1,000 technicians nationwide -- those already working to improve their level certification -- who will be able to handle higher-level repair work.