Keith Yancy, director of the FCA Performance Institute, said dealers who attended previous gatherings have hired some students. The program tried to match its students and retailers at National Hot Rod Association events in Houston and Denver this year as well.
The National Automobile Dealers Association says the industry has to replace approximately 76,000 technicians each year to keep up with demand. The association says U.S. technical colleges and training programs churn out about 37,000 new technicians each year, leaving an annual shortage of around 39,000.
Yancy said the problem could worsen as electrified and autonomous vehicles require technicians to have more specialized skills. He said misconceptions about what goes on in a service shop also deter people from entering the field.
"Most automotive dealerships today, if you go in the service department, it is not the greasy dirty pits of yesterday. These are clean, organized, well-facilitated shops, and it's a different job than it was 30 years ago," Yancy told Automotive News. "The onboard diagnostics and computer systems, head units, electrification and hybrids. This is advanced technology, and we need advanced-technology capable students who can repair and maintain them."
Andrew Lietz, service manager at Southfield Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in suburban Detroit, was on hand to scout the next wave of service recruits. He's done student outreach and said the dealership started an apprenticeship program last year.
Lietz's store is part of Ken Garff Automotive Group, which has nearly 50 stores in six states and brought on a professional recruiting staff about 18 months ago to find emerging talent.
"I strongly believe that if you're a dealer just waiting to find that next best technician that's just going to walk in and fix your shop, you're dying," Lietz said. "You have to have the mindset of, 'I'm going to go out and find a student and grow them in order to be successful five years from now, 10 years from now.' You might get lucky and have somebody come in, that's not happy where they're currently at, and be a successful, well-trained mechanic or technician, but you can't rely on that."
Andy Sandifer, a student at nearby Oakland Community College who is finishing up her first year in the Mopar program, said she met with several dealers during the Roadkill Nights event. She wants to get an associate degree as a technician and then an engineering degree.
She has a group of friends who are technicians and engineers already, so Sandifer feels she has a strong support system to fall back on if she has questions about the industry. She enjoyed having dealerships at Roadkill Nights that were eager to hire.
"It's not like we're going out yelling and holding up our resume like, 'Hey, pick me, pick me. Please hire me,' " said Sandifer, 24.
"They're actually here. And they're like, 'We want to hire you.' And that's a really cool take on it."