by Chasidy Rae Sisk
“Why can’t I find any qualified help for my business?”
This question is asked repeatedly by both automotive service and collision repair shops all across the country, and fortunately, this conundrum is being tackled by multiple organizations: TechForce Foundation, the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) and Minnesota Careers in Auto Repair and Service (MNCARS) are just a few entities working to fill the void left in shops as the baby boomer generation finally starts to consider retirement. All three non-profits support future repair professionals through scholarships, in-person events and other resources.
Despite the synchronicity that exists between those working on alleviating the workforce shortage, there seems to be a wide chasm between their actions and their ability to reach the individual shop level, according to AASP-MN Executive Director Linden Wicklund.
“I kept learning about various entities trying to solve the same problem. They are all managing to connect with tech schools and get in front of students in exciting ways, but shops still complain that nothing is being done about the lack of new talent because all of this incredible work being done isn’t reaching them at the individual shop level.”
This dilemma hit close to home since MNCARS is such an important initiative for AASP-MN. And the association wondered if there could be an opportunity for collective action between those groups to make their efforts more effective.
“So many different groups are tackling the problem of attracting more technicians and other workers, yet I was shocked to find that many of the people leading this charge didn’t even know one another,” Wicklund explains the thought processes that led to MNCARS hosting its Automotive Workforce Summit last fall. “We wanted to create a space for different leaders to come together, collaborate and compare and contrast the creative ways they’re getting folks into our industry. And we also wanted to identify ways that AASP-MN and MNCARS could have the greatest impact without duplicating what’s already being done or leaving giant gaps that don’t connect down to the individual employer level.
“How can we open people’s eyes and expose them to different angles of this problem so we can change the conversation in a way that allows us to collaboratively build upon and strengthen these initiatives?” she asks.
The Automotive Workforce Summit provided a great start as industry professionals from shops, suppliers, dealerships and more, along with educators (administrators, teachers and continuing education trainers from organizations like I-CAR and ASE) and several workforce organizations gathered together to raise awareness of the work that is already happening and identify new ways to collaborate and strengthen each group’s individual and collective efforts by learning from one another.
In her discussion on “Navigating the Future Landscape of Labor and Talent,” keynote presenter Dr. Melissa Furman addressed how the current generational composition of the workforce presents one of the biggest challenges, since baby boomers are not leaving shops at a predictable rate; although they should only comprise seven to 15 percent of today’s workforce, nearly a quarter of shop employees fall into this generation, creating a situation where the automotive industry is looking at needing to replace 20 to 40 percent of workers in the next five years.
“And we’re not just replacing this enormous percentage,” Wicklund recaps. “We’re also losing leaders and managers, so we’re going to need to jump those Gen X and Gen Y employees into leadership roles that they don’t necessarily have the training or experience for since the baby boomers have stuck around for so long.”
Recently, the Alliance has been exploring ways to help develop more leaders and encourage younger people to expand into owner-operator roles. “There’s a great opportunity to pair our efforts with things that MNCARS can do to work with the industry and students to fill this gap and attract the volume of people that’s needed.”
Real Time Talent shared data about the current workforce in Minnesota in general, in transportation careers, and specifically, in the automotive and collision space. Explaining that automotive careers are not projected to have the same level of shortfall as other careers throughout the state, they pointed out that the industries shops are competing against are being much louder since their need is so much greater. The data gathered also revealed that technicians across every level of experience are collecting median wages in the mid-40-thousand-a-year range; although some technicians make significantly more money, they make up a small percentage of the workforce, so they have little impact on the statistical data.
Segueing from that topic, Goodwill-Easter Seals examined the state’s minimum sustaining wages. For an individual to survive, one needs a minimum of $37,000 per year; a family of four requires an income of $100,000.
“This was a great way to help shops look at what they should pay to be competitive,” Wicklund summarizes. “Because the figures they cited are the bare minimums – they don’t allow workers to buy tools, take vacations or save for retirement. That amount of money is enough to pay bills, hopefully, and make sure there’s food on the table. But we’ve got shop owners who believe paying a new technician $35,000 should make their employee grateful. Meanwhile, that man or woman cannot pay rent; their car payment is late.
“At the same time, we hear these complaints about the immaturity of new hires and how they’re not reliable. But if you want to hire a grown-up, they’re going to have grown-up responsibilities. They have to earn enough to be able to live on their own. If you only want to pay enough that they can sustain themselves by living in their parents’ basement, the level of accountability they have is going to look much different than if you’re paying someone who lives on their own and is supporting a family.”
Attendees also had a chance to participate in workshop sessions and roundtable discussions which offered them an opportunity to learn more about various ways they can support the organizations helping to drive talent to this industry. Many of those conversations reinforced Wicklund’s belief that individual shops are simply unaware of many of the initiatives taking place to help drive fresh talent in their doors.
“On a national scale, campaigns are often geared toward dealerships and MSOs,” Wicklund observes. “How do the individual and independent shops fit into the puzzle?”
Building on the momentum that the Automotive Workforce Summit generated, AASP-MN and MNCARS identified additional ways to bridge that existing gap.
AASP-MN and MNCARS recently teamed up with TechForce Foundation to help bring more technicians into the automotive service and collision repair industry and to help AASP-MN members connect with them. (Learn more about TechForce at techforce.org, and stay tuned to AASP-MN News for updates on this collaboration!)
Additionally, AASP-MN and MNCARS hosted their first Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) meeting in December, soliciting employers to join the project to uncover and address the top issues in the current pipeline for bringing new technicians into the industry. Wicklund hopes that these endeavors will make a difference, but that cannot happen unless more shops choose to get involved with projects like the TPM.
“The problem with the talent shortage is that shops see it happening across the entire workforce and blame the automotive shortage on a number of things,” she acknowledges. “Meanwhile, individual shops that need employees are making adjustments to fill their needs, while others don’t anticipate needing anyone for two to five years, so they’re not ready to take action yet.
“The TPM model is based on looking at the specific needs of participating companies and finding innovative yet pragmatic solutions to filling job openings. Just like balance-billing for insurance or warranty work, it is hard to address a problem the industry hides by deleting the data,” she adds, making the plea for “10-20 employers who are willing to share real data on how many openings they anticipate having in the next few years, so the TPM can address those needs.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how to participate in the TPM.
According to Wicklund, AASP-MN and MNCARS will “continue to evaluate how we partner with other entities as we bring awareness of their efforts and continue our own work in a way that’s different from everything else being supplied. It’s really about determining how we can all work together without stepping on top of one another in a way that makes it practical and real for shops. We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us, but brick by brick, I’m confident that we can build a bridge to connect employers with the future workforce!”
Learn more about MNCARS and its efforts at carcareers.org.
Want more? Check out the January 2024 issue of AASP-MN News!