Promoting diversity and continuing education are key to attracting and keeping technicians

September 30, 2022
Editor, Canadian auto dealer magazine

We’ve sped right past the days when potential auto retail industry hires would be lining up to work in fixed ops departments all over town. It would seem a lack of enthusiasm for the trades by Millennials, possibly caused by stagnant wages, and demographic evolution where more people are retiring than coming into the workforce, have combined to make hiring talented and motivated technicians one of the most challenging aspects of running a dealership.

Canadian auto dealer reached out to a couple of educational institutions to ask, “How can you make your company attractive to young technicians?” Some of the answers are more obvious, like “offer higher salaries and good benefits,” while others are more subtle, such as changes in your company culture to make it more welcoming to women, as well as people from more diverse backgrounds.

Brett Griffiths is Vancouver Community College’s Dean, School of Trades, Technology, and Design, a program that was just recognized by the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement (CADIA) with a certification for the Transportation Trades program. CADIA is an organization based in Detroit that aims to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) tools for groups in the automotive industry. Accelerate Auto is another organization, based in Canada, that is working to “advance career opportunities for Black talent in car dealerships, manufacturers, the aftermarket and suppliers—while tackling the systemic racism that is hampering progress.”

Dealerships would do well to look into this kind of certification, said Griffiths, as the competition for qualified technicians becomes more intense.  “It’s already very hard to recruit and retain people. Oftentimes my observation has been if people can’t see themselves in that role or they aren’t represented in it, and there’s no examples of people like them, they aren’t interested in that company. If you fill these roles with people that are different from the traditional automotive technicians, service advisors or managers, you will attract more qualified workers, and you will keep them.”

Creating partnerships with local technical colleges, and creating a “learning organization” within your own company are important steps toward making sure you have access to young talent, and retain your qualified employees, says Andrew Shepherd, who is the Senior Director of Industry Programs for the Automotive Industries Association. 

In an interview with Canadian auto dealer he said, “I think that shops should be looking to be a partner of the local college. In Canada, there are a lot of efforts being made to boost that kind of preparatory and apprenticeship training. Your local college is connected to the local industry and will have the best sense of where people are and how to attract them. So that’d be my first recommendation.”

Continuing the educational opportunities once you have hired technicians not only trains them better to fix the cars of both today and tomorrow, but it creates an environment where people feel valued and invested in, says Shepherd. 

Creating a learning organization within your shop also helps retain people, he said. “Today’s repair shops and fixed ops departments can only survive with technological change by really spending a lot of resources and energy on learning and adapting.

“Fostering a learning culture helps your company in the current environment, and the second thing it does is give technicians a career path, a learning path, and we know that beyond working conditions and pay, the ability to grow, and to to develop your career is one of the most important things for young people.” 

Attracting a more diverse group of people into the trades will be important for the future success of the industry, said Shepherd, and this may mean changing what most people think of the auto technician industry as a whole. “The image of auto repair has not been conveyed to people accurately. The amount of computerization, and of diagnostic stuff. I don’t think the average student knows that. There is some solution in doing some basic PR work about modern day mechanics and collision repair technicians.” 

Until there is an adequate supply of local graduates, Shepherd believes that recruiting in overseas countries like the Philippines can bridge the hiring gap. “The answer in the short term, certainly has to include going overseas, I think.”

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