It's hard not to be alarmed at the chronic and growing shortage of well-qualified automotive service technicians, especially as the tech's job gets ever more demanding and complicated.
But it's reassuring, at least somewhat, to look at how industry players — dealers, automakers, suppliers, trade groups and educators — are responding to the challenge.
We've seen the dire numbers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a need for nearly 796,000 service techs by 2026 (about 36 percent of techs work in dealership service departments). That's an increase of nearly 46,000 techs from employment levels two years ago, the bureau estimates.
But the industry will need to develop many more than that number of technicians just to replace the tens of thousands of veteran techs who retire or quit each year. And the next wave of techs will need a far broader skill set.
Industry leaders warn that the complexity of cars and trucks, electrical and digital as well as mechanical and design, is growing faster than techs' capability to address it. To repair autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles and other connected cars, techs will need to be as adept at manipulating a computer as they are at turning a wrench.
The Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) has a name for what's gathering force: the technical tsunami. As a matter of self-preservation, the industry needs to get a lot better — quickly — at recruiting, hiring and retaining technicians, and providing career-long training for them.
I encountered two encouraging examples last month of major industry institutions working to improve the condition of service techs, in terms of both numbers and knowledge. One approach is immediately practical, the other visionary.