Donny Seyfer, executive officer of the National Automotive Training Task Force, notes that fewer high schools offer auto shop programs, further diminishing the potential supply of techs. Even when such classes are available, he adds, there is often a disconnect between what they teach and what service departments need.
Assigning young students to tear down an engine or repair a transmission is a bad fit in an industry where the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence estimates that maintenance accounts for 70 percent of techs' work, Seyfer says.
"Hell would freeze over before a shop manager at a dealership would cut a kid loose on that kind of thing," he says. "Why are we teaching that in school? Why aren't we getting [students] to the point where they are ready for light repair work?"
Despite such obstacles, many observers say they are optimistic that dealerships — with the help of automakers, suppliers and postsecondary educators — can cope with the tech shortage.
Janigro says service departments that "get it" do not lose their service techs.
He points to Santa Monica Audi in California, which he says provides a clear career path, asking technicians where they want to be in five and 10 years.
"And then help them get there," he says. "They never lose anybody. They haven't had any attrition in years."
Seyfer says he also sees "some movement" to close the tech gap.
"There's so much going on in the industry to try and encourage younger people," to pursue tech careers, he says. "If we don't screw it up, we have nothing to worry about."
But he adds: "If we keep doing it the way we have been doing it, we absolutely have something to worry about."