There's a general consensus in the industry that there's a serious shortage of automotive technicians able to work on today's advanced cars and trucks.
Now, some analysts and experts say that simply recruiting more technicians won't help. Dealerships today are losing technicians too fast for recruitment to make up the emerging gap, they argue.
"The numbers are staggering," says Mark Davis, automotive programs manager at Seminole State College of Florida. The college's Associate in Applied Science degree program is a national curriculum leader that graduates about 100 technicians a year. There are Ford- and General Motors-certified tracks, as well as a generic import-brand track.
Davis says Ford and GM estimate a need for a total of 15,000 new technicians for their U.S. dealerships over the next five years. Davis estimates the North American shortfall at more than 25,000 in that same time period.
"I don't think there are enough training institutions in the U.S. to keep up with the shortage," says Davis.
Industry analyst Harry Hollenberg concurs that the technician shortage is big and unlikely to change soon. Hollenberg is a founding partner at Carlisle & Co., a Concord, Mass., firm that collects and analyzes data for automakers.
Carlisle's most recent report on service technicians and advisers, released in 2014, found that an ongoing industry churn sees 20 percent of luxury-brand mechanics and 25 percent of volume-brand mechanics leave their jobs each year.
They may be leaving to go to another dealership, to an independent shop or even to a nonautomotive job. Every departure is an expensive disruption. "From a team perspective, it makes it very hard," says Hollenberg.
What's causing this problem? Both Davis and Hollenberg point to a key part of the dealership service pipeline: the service adviser system.
"We asked the technicians, "What's the biggest issue you have?' The No. 1 issue was communication with the service adviser," says Hollenberg.