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Building a More Diverse Repair Workforce

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Aug. 9, 2021—The repair industry’s skilled labor shortage is certainly nothing new. The issue has plagued independent repair shop owners for years and came to a head for many in the wake of a global pandemic and unprecedented economic pendulum shifts.

To combat the challenges surrounding the shortage and its long-term impact, individuals and organizations alike are beginning to push up their sleeves to do their part in recruiting, training, and retaining much-needed talent in hopes for a brighter future.  

And with its August 3 announcement, Advance Auto Parts is using a grassroots approach to not only take aim at the industry’s labor shortage, but to build a more diverse industry workforce in the process. 

The company is partnering with Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, N.C., to support its new Hendrick Center for Automotive Excellence to roll out a recruitment initiative to increase diversity in the school’s automotive programs, and outfit the Center’s two tool rooms. 

To learn more about the program, Ratchet+Wrench checked in with Elisabeth Eisleben, president of the Advance Auto Parts Foundation and senior vice president of communications for Advance Auto Parts. 

Why launch a program like this now especially?

As a 90-year-old company, Advance’s philanthropic efforts go back decades, but we’ve really begun to redevelop the Advance Auto Parts Foundation’s core pillars, which include the health and wellness of our team networks and communities, our support and employment of veterans, and education, training and development of the industry at large so a program like this is a natural fit. 

Everyone knows there’s a shortage of technicians in our industry, but diversity within the industry is still lacking as well. Our goal is to raise awareness and attract new talent from those who may not have considered the auto space before. This was an exciting opportunity to help encourage students from all backgrounds and experiences to explore careers in automotive service and repair at a first-class facility right in our own backyard.

What will the program include?

Advance is committing a total of $250,000, $200,000 of which will go to the program’s recruitment initiative, dedicated for direct outreach in local high schools to increase representation of gender and ethnicity in the classroom and broaden enrollment in the school’s automotive degree program. That funding will also be dedicated for scholarships to help students offset some of their living expenses and the required equipment and tools that they’ll need to complete the school's two-year automotive program.

We’ll be working with local nonprofits like Communities in Schools and North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals that are very heavily involved in working to increase diversity in local programs to help with the recruitment process as well as the awarding of the scholarships.

What could the partnership’s future impact be?

This partnership is working to tackle two big issues our industry’s facing, but it’s absolutely a possibility that a recruitment initiative like this could absolutely open up a path to someone who had never considered repair and had never had the industry on their radar. So, we think this focus on education and exposure has potential to help down the road in that war on talent 

Diversity and inclusion have been huge pillars for Advance for years and even through the scholarship program the Foundation offers to dependents of Advance team members has shown us first-hand how an investment like that can pave the way for young up and coming individuals pursuing higher education and we want to do more of that. 

We hope this can become a model for future programs across the country. This first will be a pilot of sorts, but we have almost 5,000 corporate stores across the country, and as we go into these different markets, we definitely want to be a community partner that could potentially help launch this on a broader scale. 

What could a program like this mean for the single-store independent shop owner?

Something that we're really proud of, especially over the last 18 months, is really being intentional about partnering with our professional customers and small shops that don’t have scale behind them to ensure that they have the resources they need to continue building their businesses, including access to things like virtual instructor-led programs and trainings. This is another avenue we think can continue to help them on the ground in their shops and the industry as a whole in the long-term.  

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