BMW of North America is investing big to expand its training of dealership service technicians in the United States.
The goal is to boost by 60 percent the number of technicians the automaker trains by 2020, says Denise Melville, department head at BMW Group University. It's a matter of necessity, she adds.
"Where are we going to find these technicians?" Melville told Fixed Ops Journal. "They aren't growing on trees."
BMW seeks to boost the annual number of technicians who graduate from the training centers it owns to around 800, Melville says. BMW's U.S. dealerships need to add more than 1,500 technicians each year to cover turnover and new positions.
Melville declined to disclose the size of the investment, but says it will increase the size of BMW-owned training facilities by 50 percent.
BMW owns training centers at its headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., and in Ontario, Calif.; Schaumburg, Ill.; Atlanta; Oxnard, Calif. and Spartanburg, S.C.
In Atlanta, BMW is building a new campus that will quadruple its training space, Melville says. The new 12,000-square-foot site will have 12 classrooms.
The renovated site in Ontario will add 12 classrooms, along with a body and paint shop. BMW also is adding training space at its New Jersey center, and a new building at the Spartanburg training facility.
The Ontario expansion will allow BMW to double, to six, the number of graduating classes each year in its Service Technician Education Program, says Gary Uyematsu, BMW of North America's national technician training manager.
BMW University has 14 U.S. locations. The six BMW corporate training centers offer the 16-week STEP certification program. Other locations that provide STEP certification are the Military STEP center at Camp Pendleton Marine Base in California, operated by United Technical Institute, and two other UTI campuses in Avondale, Colo., and Orlando.
STEP also is available at a Lincoln Technical Institute campus in Grand Prairie, Texas, and at Ohio Technical College in Cleveland.
Three community colleges — Chabot Community College in Hayward, Calif; Mass Bay Community College in Boston; and Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C. — offer associate degree programs based on a modified STEP curriculum.
BMW is also expanding its apprenticeship program, which mainly serves community college graduates with degrees in service tech, Uyematsu says. The six-month program alternates between two weeks of training and two weeks of work in a dealership.
UTI and other educational institutions that partner with BMW aren't part of the expansion plan. But BMW's Melville says "we need them to bring us more candidates."
Chabot Community College is visiting middle and high schools to build interest in careers as service techs, says John Labonte, the college's interim outreach specialist. Chabot offers an associate degree in automotive technology with a specialization in BMW vehicles.
Interest in the BMW program continues to grow because of the prospect it offers students of a good job after graduation, Labonte says.
UTI employs a BMW representative specifically to promote STEP, says Kim McWaters, the company's president.
UTI promotes campus career fairs where students can talk with BMW dealers and examine the automaker's vehicles. It hosts "future tech" nights at BMW dealerships, inviting potential students and their families and friends to learn about service tech careers.
The key, McWaters says, is to show young people that tech jobs are highly skilled, well-paid positions.
"The best thing we can do," she adds, "is try to change the image of a technician."