As a former National Automobile Dealers Association chairman, current NADA Foundation chairman and dealer principal of Smith South Plains Ford-Lincoln in Levelland, Texas, Annette Sykora spends plenty of time talking to other dealers.
She says one topic prevails in these discussions: "I don't think I've had a conversation with another dealer who didn't have a shortage of technicians.
"It's widespread," Sykora told Fixed Ops Journal. "There is an aging population among technicians, and I don't know if there are enough entering to meet current and future demand."
As dealerships scramble to find trained service technicians, some are offering signing bonuses of $2,500 or more.
Addressing the tech shortage is a key goal of the work force initiative launched this year by the NADA Foundation.
NADA is developing a website and social media campaign that will include videos of technicians talking about their training and pay. The initiative will go on the road next year, with exhibits at conferences for high school counselors and community colleges and other events to tout tech careers.
Hundreds of colleges and technical schools offer the training students need to land jobs as service techs, and many are affiliated with automakers' training programs. Students, though, generally need to hunt on their own to find a program that is nearby and meets their budget. The NADA initiative plans to tackle this problem as well.
"All the manufacturers have their own programs, and there are a lot of silos," says Jonathan Collegio, NADA's senior vice president of public affairs. "They ignore each other's programs."
A student may find information about Toyota's Technician Training and Education Network, Collegio notes, without discovering that a General Motors service education program may be closer to home.
"There's no brand-neutral place where all of the training centers are on one map, where there are videos explaining the certification levels, the benefits of the job, how you can grow to higher technician levels and make good money," Collegio says. "There's no one good place for all that information, and that's the space we're trying to fill.
"Same thing with scholarships," Collegio adds. "One of the things that we hear is that a lot of scholarships go unfilled, and part of that could be that they're not in one place where you can find out what is available."
Collegio says the NADA Foundation will tap manufacturers and others to raise money for the initiative. Ideas from dealers are especially welcome, he adds.