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Overcoming Auto Care’s Talent Shortage

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I was rocketing across the Internet, desperately searching for something so critically important I can’t remember what it was, when the little guy who lives in my head tapped me on the inside of an eyelid and insisted I back up.

Back up? Why? I was moving at the speed of thought! Absurd!

Not so … 

Evidently, I had missed something that warranted a second look.

I’m not going to lie: I was annoyed! My concentration had been broken, my train of thought instantly and completely derailed. What could be important enough to warrant that kind of an interruption? Then I stumbled across what the little guy wanted me to see. 

It was a reprint of a short article written by Kathryn Dill that appeared in the June 2014 issue of Forbes Magazine, entitled: “The 10 Hardest Jobs to Fill in 2014.” It was based upon research done by the ManpowerGroup, a human resources consultancy, for their annual Talent Shortage Survey.

forbes.com

The survey identifies professions struggling the most to find the trained, competent and qualified individuals needed to carry out “normal business functions” and highlights the 10 job searches that float to the top of that list. These are critical manpower shortages that either prevent companies from growing, seriously inhibit productivity, or cause significant losses through a company’s inability to compete effectively.

The further into the article I ventured, the more depressed I became. The only thing that kept me from searching for a ledge was my certainty that the shortages they were talking about were focused on technology and our failure to produce enough IT wizards, electrical engineers and other such computer-type nerds. 

Then, I read on and became really depressed, but not surprised.

You see, while it turns out that finding and filling those technology positions is certainly a problem, it didn’t even come close to the top of the list! The group topping the list for the past five years—and the one that topped the list again this year—is simply classified as “the skilled trades.” 

That’s us, along with the other skilled tradesman like us: machinists, HVAC technicians, electricians, plumbers, etc. And, it seems we’ve dominated that list since 2008 and managed to work our way straight to the very top every year since 2010.

A revelation! Not exactly, as the shortage of trained, competent and qualified professionals in our industry isn’t exactly news to any shop owner who has spent thousands of dollars and months, if not years, looking for that elusive “A-tech.” 

Rebekah Kowalski, principal consultant with Right Management, Manpower’s workforce consulting division, put it all in perspective with almost elegant simplicity in the 2014 article: “There are not enough people going into the skilled trades to make up for the folks that are leaving.” 

What I’m really writing about here is our failure to address the issue; our lack of will to do more than talk about the problem when there is nothing less at stake than the very survival of our industry.

“But, I can’t do anything. The problems are too big and I’m too small! There is only one of me and one isn’t enough!”

Sorry, but I’m not buying it.

Individually, each of us may only be one, but together we could be many! Certainly enough to do something more than just watch as the shortage continues to grow until there is no one left to turn out the lights when it’s time to finally call it quits.

We can start by recognizing the important role we play in the future of our industry and the health of our general economy. We can start by identifying and addressing the obstacles that stand in the way of real and positive change. We can work diligently to help change the tired and tarnished image of our industry—an image that holds us all captive to this day.

We can work just as hard to make life in this industry as safe as humanly possible. 

We can all work to ensure that compensation throughout the industry is equal to the skill, ability, education and commitment necessary to not only survive, but to succeed as well—a compensation model that is based on value and not just production.

We can do more than just talk about professional standards and standard operating procedures, and begin the difficult and unforgiving work of creating the kind of professional environment we’re going to need in order to have anyone worth keeping join us.

You don’t have to start the dialogue. You don’t have to carry the discussion. But, you will need to join those who believe the changes we so desperately need start now. You will need to actively support those changes and demand that our leaders do the same! 

Lists, like the one in Forbes, can be tricky. Finding yourself at the top of the list of hardest jobs to fill is no great honor. It is a dubious distinction, at best.

But, finding yourself listed among those earnestly working hard to change the landscape of our industry so we can fill those hard-to-fill positions? Well, that’s a list I would have no problem finding myself at the top off. 


Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at mschneider@ratchetandwrench.com. For an archive of his columns go to ratchetandwrench.com/schneider.

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