First let me make my case as to what is not working. Generally Speaking, Auto techs feel they do not make enough money and shops are having a harder time than before attracting and keeping automotive technicians. Cars are more complex than ever and even dealerships have a hard time fixing their own brand. The best shops are not as stressed, but they are affected by unhappy customers they have not even met yet that went to a shop that did not keep them coming back. There are 3 big players that need to change. They are government, OEMs and independent shops and schools.
Here is what the Local and National elected officials need to change:
- Require Licensed Techs and Shops
- Make Flat Rate illegal or have a Big Base Pay
- Make Auto Shop Community Colleges Free for two to four years and required for a Master Tech License
What Shops need to do:
- Supply all the tools and tool boxes with a tax credit
- Have an Apprenticeship Program
What schools need to do:
- Have a universal education plan from 8th Grade to a Bachelor’s Degree
How will the first three fix things?
If Government acts it will take a decade or more to see the effects. By then the licensing will shut down the illegal and incompetent shops and bad techs will be doing something else, hopefully well. The techs paychecks will be consistent and quality work will trump a fast repair job. Pay checks will award great work and not dishonest or one-sided pay schemes. The work will be much better because the techs will have a lot of great training before “learning on the job as the consumers’ expense”. The partnership between shops and schools is a key part.
Shops must have licensed techs and can’t pay just “flat rate” so quality work is now front and center where it should have always been. By supplying all the tools the remaining techs will take home more by not giving the tool man part of their paycheck every week. As this cannot be a “law”, not every shop will do it, but a tax credit to the shop owner of $10,000 per-tech, per-year, up to $50,000 per tech would give the shop owner an incentive. This would have a sunset clause at 10 years out. Those shops that did this early on will keep their techs as without tools they are less likely to leave you. Why would they leave anyway as clearly you are their side. Those techs that love their job can mentor and bring in the new techs that you will be able to hire because you supply the tools. This has another benefit as you can hire a poor kid with a rich brain.
The local high school and community college benefit in a huge way as their funding must go up. If Shops partner with the high school and really get involved they can bring in an intern and when the best match is made, hire her or him and help them along the way. After years of knowing this young star they will be “job ready” after they get their “Master License”.
All three “Government, Shops and Schools” must do their part and over time the automotive repair industry will mature into a high skilled job that anyone in America can aspire to and achieve no matter what their situation.
Other benefits: Car owners will have a better repair experience, techs will be safer in the workplace as high voltage systems are more common. Repair Shops and Dealerships will have the workforce they need in the future. Parents will not be burdened with debt for private automotive schools that rarely get the student more than a certificate and a bill for $30,000 plus. The five year retention rate for graduates in an automotive two year program in under 10%. Foster boys and girls that age out of the system could have a good job, but cannot afford the tools and even the free education offered is not enough. Prisoners released without a skill most likely will re-offend and cost the state more money and we also have failed them. Note: Salem State Penitentiary (Oregon) has a great program. I was lucky enough to get inside and teach some classes.
Big ideas? Sure but they are doable.
Craig Van Batenburg