If dealerships are having a hard time finding young people interested in becoming service technicians, one key reason could be that high school students are seldom exposed to available opportunities. Fewer high schools offer auto tech classes these days.
That absence is especially apparent in urban communities that have large numbers of minority students but few programs for skilled trades, says Damon Lester, president of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers.
"Years ago, most high schools had auto shop," Lester told Fixed Ops Journal. "That's not the case anymore. We need to inform those kids, particularly at the high school level, who aren't interested in attending a college or community college that there are opportunities available to make a very good living as a technician."
For the past four years, NAMAD members have gone to high schools to tell students about tech opportunities, and to historically black colleges to talk about broader opportunities in the industry. That grassroots approach, also used by other industry groups and dealerships, generates interest among students who haven't been exposed to auto-related jobs or considered the possibilities," Lester says.
"What has been successful for us has been removing the stigma or the myth that a technician always comes home dirty, with oil under their fingernails, and that it doesn't provide a good living," he says. "Once we explain that you're learning a trade and really becoming an engineer that specializes in automotive, that's when we've been pretty successful. It removes that negative perception that being a technician is not a cool job."
Career choices of young people often are inspired by older people who work in that field, but that is less likely to happen with minorities, Lester notes.
"If you look at the technicians in place now, most of the master techs are nonminority," he says. "The people who are in the field tend to pass on their experiences and make others aware when there are opportunities. But if you're not exposed to it, then you're not going to have access to it."
NAMAD members bring high school students to their dealerships to show them what a modern service department looks like. That can be an eye-opener, Lester says.
"It isn't what they thought a shop looks like, with a lot of oil on the floor, cold and dirty, with dim lights," he says. "Instead, it's clean and bright, and it's warm. It definitely gives people a positive feel."