What Caused The Technician Shortage?
May 27, 2021—Last fall, the TechForce Foundation released its 2020 Technician Supply & Demand Report and concluded that the U.S. will be short 642,000 technicians by 2024 if current trends persist.
The ongoing technician shortage isn’t a new concept. It’s been talked about by shop owners and industry experts for years. The conventional wisdom around the shortage has revolved around a declining desire by younger generations to enter the industry. But is that the only reason?
Lucas Underwood, owner of L&N Performance Auto Repair in Blowing Rock, N.C., doesn’t think so.
“Is it truly just a young talent shortage? Or is it an issue that started long ago with how we treat people, how we pay people and as a whole an image of our industry? I think as a whole, we have an image problem and unfortunately we have a lot of individuals who contribute to that,” Underwood said.
Underwood says every day he’s focused on making sure his company is maintaining a culture that fosters success for every employee both professionally and personally. Underwood estimates he’ll spend over $100,000 this year just on training for his employees.
Alongside being a shop owner, Underwood hosts a podcast that talks about issues happening in the industry. He said he’s gotten hundreds of messages from technicians around the country saying, “you have a very altruistic view. Your shop may be great but you don’t see what we’re experiencing out here. It’s dirty. People aren’t treating us correctly.”
That’s why fixing the relationships for the people already inside the industry should be prioritized, Underwood said.
That doesn’t mean Underwood isn’t concerned about the lack of young talent. He’s currently a board member for the Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina which works with the state on an apprenticeship program. He’s also visited his local high school’s automotive program to help promote the program. In recent years, the local high school’s automotive program went from having five students to a current wait list of over two years to get into the program.
But in order for those apprentices to become invested in the industry long term, the current system needs to be fixed. Underwood sees two main problems.
First, a technician's career path may be limited, he says.
“As a technician hits 55 or 60, where does he go from here? Do we have a position for him? Do we have mentorship roles, where they can help to raise up the next generation of technicians? We are lacking that.”
Second is through standardization. Most other trades have a system that ensures consistency. The repair world does not. Underwood isn’t a proponent of licensing and registration, but he believes there needs to be some type of system that promotes consistency.
So while Underwood is disheartened that kids aren’t working on cars like he was when he was young, he doesn’t see that problem becoming fixable until the culture in the industry shifts.
“The reason there’s a technician shortage is because we have abused our technicians for so long, and we haven’t treated them properly giving the entire industry a poor reputation,” he says. “We have to do the legwork to fix that and it starts with treating people right that we already have and growing from there.”