Charlie Gilchrist used his inaugural speech as 2019 NADA chairman to address what he calls a "dangerous shortage" of qualified body shop technicians that threatens dealer profitability.
Gilchrist, 63, said the biggest challenge facing dealers today isn't autonomous technology or a slowing new-vehicle market. It's a shortage of workers to help run the automaker's parts and service centers — profit powerhouses that can carry the business through sales dips or recessions.
"Today, the challenge is what goes on in our house," he said. "Our future depends on our ability to recruit, train and retain people. This is not a can we can afford to kick down the road."
Gilchrist said the industry is facing a shortage of 76,000 technicians each year between now and 2026. In addition, 30,000 per year will be retiring.
To help combat that shortage, Gilchrist announced the creation of a workforce initiative by the NADA Foundation. It includes a website, nadafoundation.org, where prospective technicians can search for jobs, scholarship opportunities or other information about careers in the industry.
"Our goal isn't to recruit Toyota or Ford techs," he said.
"We just want to recruit and train techs. We want the whole industry to back one initiative."
Gilchrist is president of Gilchrist Automotive, which sells nine brands at five dealerships in the Dallas-Fort Worth area including flagship store SouthWest Ford of Weatherford, Texas.
And in his speech, it appeared the longtime Ford dealer took a page from former Ford CEO Alan Mulally.
In the midst of the Great Recession, Mulally attempted to rally the automaker around a single idea — "One Ford" — and printed business cards with his goals clearly laid out.
Gilchrist offered every dealer who attended this year's show a similar card with the words "Nurture," "Advocate," "Deliver" and "Accountability."
"These are words we embody," he said. "We are one NADA."