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Fighting the Technician Shortage

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In efforts to combat the technician shortage, Icahn Automotive launched the "Race to 2026," an initiative designed to encourage men and women to pursue skilled trades by partnering with technician training schools. President of Service and Real Estate for Icahn Automotive, Brian Kaner, is leading the way, representing the largest number of automotive service networks in North America and well-known brands such as Pep Boys, AAMCO and Precision Tune.

Since joining Icahn Automotive as a senior vice president overseeing strategy and corporate development activity, Kaner has been instrumental in more than 1,000 service-related acquisitions and integrations. Recently, Kaner led the launch of Pep Boys Mobile Crew, a state-of-the-art mobile repair unit that provides customers convenient, on-location maintenance and repair services by ASE-certified automotive technicians, as well as several new professional installation agreements for tires purchased from leading online retailers.  

With more than 10,000 service bays across 2,000 Company-owned and franchised locations, Kaner is driving the company’s expansion of its service model through acquisition, new business initiatives and the improvement of existing locations by focusing on people, programs, training and technology.

Kaner recently sat down with Ratchet+Wrench to discuss the motives behind "Race to 2026," as well as how the program will assist in filling the hiring gap that affects many in the automotive industry.

 

Why was now the right time to launch the program? Why did Icahn Automotive feel it was their duty to help address the issue?

We know what’s going to happen in the marketplace and what’s been happening in the past two years. The gap continues to grow. There are 75,000 jobs open every year and only a portion are filled. The gap is going to grow to 46,000 unfilled roles by 2026. That represents 5 percent of the workforce. Plus, there’s a generation of people retiring out. We’re not filling it with new people excited to be part of a skilled trade. A lot of that has been part of the de-emphasis going back as far as high school.

We want to create some energy around it and help people better understand the opportunity and the careers available. We’re a large national provider with 2,000 locations, so for us not to play into this would be a miss on our part. We know people are the key to our success. Without people taking on these roles, it will cause a fair amount of pain in the future.

 

How will this help the image of some of your brands, like Pep Boys? Was part of the idea to broadcast the opportunities afforded by working for a company like Icahn Automotive?

I think that makes us a very attractive opportunity for people choosing this path. We are one of the few players in this space that you can come in at a tech level, work up through the ranks and also pivot your career to management or own a franchise location. Being able to paint the picture for students that it doesn’t have to end at a technical career and can span beyond that is important.

 

How will you work with the students throughout the lifecycle of entering and graduating school?

One of the things we’re really stressing is the opportunity to work part time in our shops while you’re in school. With so many locations, we are pretty uniquely positioned and with the store hours we have (open 7 days per week, being open late), that gives lots of flexibility. It also provides on-the-job training and compensation while they’re in school. That’s a bit of how we’re trying to create connectivity with students.

With a large amount of master techs, partnering them with the master techs who are doing the technical diagnosing and fixing some of those difficult jobs is also key to get some of that exposure early so they can see the complexity of the repairs. It’s not just oil changes. I keep trying to reposition that this is a STEM career. As the vehicles have evolved, the code lines in a vehicle are more complex than the code lines in a Boeing 787. If you step back and think about a software engineer, this is no different. We do have a good opportunity to reposition the role.

When a general service tech comes into a store their first job is the oil change—that stuff that feels mundane. You have to put forth the effort and believe you can take it beyond where you’re at.  

 

What do you think is the key to filling this hiring gap? How do we change that mindset regarding trades?

I think it goes back to the high schools regarding the mindset. We have a role in the industry to reposition the role as a STEM career. As cars continue to evolve and the technology continues to evolve, you’ll find yourself in a position and you’ll see the technology in the stores isn’t the same technology that existed 50 years ago. Educating the high schools and counselors and students that these vehicles are really heavily tech-driven now and showing them what that means is important. Getting parents to lose the perceptions of the industry and help them reposition it. This is more of an opportunity for people who have great minds and like to work with their hands.

You see it with the counselors but you don’t see it with the investments. The vo-tech is continuing to be cut. That’s putting pressure on them. We see counselors being receptive and pushing students, but there needs to be more of it. There are other organizations that are working hard to raise awareness and we’re partnering with them as well.

 

What is the goal of the program? How will you determine the effectiveness of the program?

The goal is to continue to promote growth through tech schools. The other goal is that you’re changing the perception. The ultimate objection for Icahn is that we have skilled techs coming out of these schools. We know in an industry where convenience is important, the numbers of techs at a shop is a big driver in speed. Our shops need to be filled with the best trained techs.

We’re trying to help fill the pipeline with the early promoting of the program. That will ultimately lead us to a position of being nicely positioned.

 

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