The National Automobile Dealers Association says the industry expects around 39,000 newly trained service technicians in an average year. But 2020 isn't an average year.
Many high schools, community colleges and technical training schools have switched to online classroom work because of coronavirus concerns, experts say. Therefore, in many cities and states it's difficult to offer hands-on training for would-be rookie technicians while observing rules for social distancing, according to interviews.
Jonathan Collegio, NADA vice president of public affairs and lead for the NADA Foundation's Workforce Initiative, says the coming school year is hard to predict. The Workforce Initiative was launched in 2018 to promote dealership jobs and help new service technicians find training.
"The challenge is, if you're new to automotive technology, what does your program at the community college look like in the fall? What does that look like to onboard a student in September of 2020?" Collegio says.
In the hard-hit New York City area, classes switched in March to online-only at the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association's Center for Automotive Education & Training, says Mark Schienberg, president of the dealer association.
"On Zoom there are live instructors," he says. "It's live for an hour and a half, two hours — direct instruction from the instructors on the curriculum for that day. Then they move over to simulators. It's very robust."
Ami Bhandari, senior vice president of education for Lincoln Educational Services Corp., which provides instruction for the New York center, says automotive students are still required to demonstrate a list of hands-on skills to graduate.
For students who have an externship at a dealership, Lincoln will give them credit if they make a video of themselves at work properly performing the required skills.
Bhandari says it could take some students longer than expected to graduate if there's no other way for them to demonstrate hands-on skills other than to return to a Lincoln center. The company has reopened campuses in four cities, with students donning masks and gloves and practicing social distancing, according to press releases.
Lincoln Educational Services says in its first-quarter report that "some students have been placed on leave of absence as they currently cannot complete their externships, and some students chose not to currently participate in online learning. Once our schools reopen, we expect these students to finish their programs."