Beyond the Classroom
It doesn’t take an expert to know that toolkits are critical to automotive repair. The difference between a well-stocked kit and a bare-bones bundle can impact a technician’s preparedness.
But some challenges can’t be solved with the turn of a wrench. For example, the industry-wide technician shortage has proven to be a worthy adversary. As a shop owner, facing this challenge means filling up a metaphorical toolkit by putting your shop in a position of being prepared rather than waiting to react.
According to the 2022 Ratchet + Wrench Industry Survey, 65% of respondents are concerned about the current shortage of qualified technicians.
The best way to solve this issue isn’t easily defined. But Mike Coley, president of the ASE Education Foundation, believes that the Adopt-a-School program could be a great place to start.
“It was built and provided for the automotive industry to create a bridge between employers, schools, and students that we want to bring into the industry as entry-level technicians,” Coley says.
The Adopt-a-School program was established through the ASE Education Foundation to help any automotive industry employer willing to employ young people from an automotive training program get connected to educational institutions.
“If you’re interested in investing in the industry and investing in the future of your business, then you really need to be interested in investing in young people,” Coley says. “I think that’s just a requirement of the way you need to think today to be successful in business.”
Upon visiting the ASE Education Foundation website (aseeducationfoundation.org), employers can follow a button titled “Adopt-a-School'' and they will be directed to the program’s page. They will be able to fill out their information and can gain access to a free toolkit that gets them pointed in the right direction.
“It takes you step by step very simply,” Coley says. “How do I find a local school? How do I get to know the instructor and the administration? How do I figure out how they can help me and how I can help them? What are the activities that we can do together?”
The toolkit provides employers with resources that help strategize their approach. Shops can use resources from the Adopt-a-School program including activities, videos, presentation tools, best practices, talking points, and more.
“It’s all free to the industry. We’re a non-profit foundation,” Coley says. “It’s created to serve the industry, and we want to make the education programs better so that the students coming out are prepared for a career so that they’ll enjoy being in our industry and they’ll stay in our industry. That’s really the goal.”
Through the Adopt-a-School program, employers can find local ASE-accredited high schools or community colleges along with the contact information for instructors. This allows employers to have direct contact with the right people.
Employers can work with the school to determine what the relationship could look like. It could involve donating tools, equipment, or even vehicles to the students. It could mean funding scholarships or hands-on experiences, or something else entirely.
The monetary investments, as well as the elbow grease involved, can be developed over time as the employer and the school work together to establish the best course of action.
Use the Network
The ASE Education Foundation also has local field managers available to help navigate the process.
“We have a national network of field managers at the ASE Education Foundation that specifically work to help encourage these relationships between businesses and schools,” Coley says. “If somebody is hitting a brick wall and they don’t know where to go or what to do, they can reach out to our local field managers and we can help that way too.”
The relationships between automotive employers and schools can be mutually beneficial, according to Coley. Working directly with a school can frame the approach to the technician shortage in a new light for shop owners. The Adopt-a-School program can help employers shape technicians from the ground up.
“We like to argue that the better approach is to grow your own technicians. That means finding young people that are interested in a career in automotive and helping them get started,” Coley says. “We’ve had good research that shows when you take that approach it takes time and takes some effort. But those students … they’re going to grow up in the culture of your shop and not bring bad habits from another shop with them … [and] they’re more likely to stick with you in the long haul since they started with you.”
Access to employers is also great for schools. Coley says one of the goals of the Adopt-a-School program is to get industry employers onto school advisory committees.
“Every school that’s accredited by ASE is required to have an advisory committee made up of local business people; the people that are going to hire the students coming out of the program,” Coely says. “They hold the program accountable to make sure that they are staying up to date, that they’re teaching current technology, that they have up-to-date equipment and tools to teach with, and that the instructors have a good curriculum.”
Coley says that these committees are important because the people on them have the ability to help shape the education of future technicians.
“The administration doesn’t know whether what the instructor is doing is up to date or not,” Coley says. “That’s where the advisory committee is valuable to really help the school identify what we need to teach, what employers today really value, what we need to do more of, what we need to get rid of, and make sure that the program is really serving the needs of the community.”
Coley cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which he relays has predicted 100,000 people a year will be needed to fill positions in automotive, collision, and truck over the next decade. Those are some big numbers, but Coley believes that students interested in automotive have a unique advantage.
“A lot of jobs nowadays are becoming automated. The beauty of automotive service is that there is going to be a demand well into the future,” Coley says. “Those are jobs that can’t be outsourced and can’t be automated. Once you’ve got that skill, you can practice that skill in your own home town or if you want to move across the state or across the country it’s a skill that you can take with you and get a job tomorrow.”
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a lot of things off for the industry. Coley points out that many people used the pandemic as an opportunity to retire early. He says this meant many shops had to quickly react to the loss of quality technicians, and some still haven’t caught up.
The Adopt-a-School program can help by giving shops a place to start getting up to speed with staff, oftentimes without having to worry about an additional investment of training for these potential new hires.
“You’re not having to pay them from scratch to do all the training,” Coley says. “Happily, either the high school or the community college is providing a lot of that basic training.”
This program still involves an investment of time and persistence, Coley assures. He says that employers who want to explore the Adopt-a-School program should be willing to work with these young people to ensure a bright future for their own shop and the greater industry alike.
“The best time to think about growing your own technician was three or five years ago. If you didn’t do that, the second best time is today. Get started today,” Coley says.