Solving the Technician Shortage

June 1, 2018
Rissy Sutherland takes a look at the curriculum driving NASTF's innovative solution for the technician shortage.

Here’s the dream: I want the best A-tech in the world. I want him to be available as soon as I place an ad. I want to pay him flat rate. I want him to have a great attitude, be fully trained, have zero comebacks, be reliable, and stay with me forever. I don’t want to offer him any benefits. Oh, and it would be great if he had his own scanner and over $100,000 in tools. Sounds easy, right?

Unfortunately, we all know that it doesn’t work that way anymore. We have an aging population of technicians with a small percentage of youth coming up through the ranks (if you look at my wish list above, I don’t blame them) and vehicles that are more complex than ever. So how can we fix that problem? My solution is to start with the heavy hitters that are working relentlessly to make it happen!

The group leading this charge is NASTF with the Road to Great Technicians board members. Their objective is to figure out why we have a technician shortage, how to recruit new technicians, take the time to train these new technicians, and then communicate their findings with defined levels across the industry. I worked with two members of the board representing both sides of the topic, Jill Saunders and Donny Seyfer.

Jill Saunders is the mastermind behind curriculum development for all Toyota technicians in the U.S. You would think that the head of Toyota’s training would have enough on her plate, but Jill made it a priority to get involved with NASTF because she saw so many young people coming into the automotive world who wanted to work on cars, but eventually leaving because they didn’t see a clear career path.

Jill recruits her new technicians through Toyota’s innovative T-TEN program that is now available in vocational and technical schools across the country. The program allows students to get an associate degree, learn to work on cars, and do an apprenticeship at their local Toyota dealership. When students come out of the program they can change oil, perform recall work, and are ready to flag some hours.

While Jill feels that Toyota has been able to streamline the onboarding process successfully, she believes that aftermarket shops could use some assistance providing newly graduated employees with training programs, clear goals to achieve, and a systematic process to climb the ladder within their shop.

Now, let’s take a look at this topic from the view of an aftermarket shop owner. Donny Seyfer has one family-owned shop in Denver. His shop has nine bays, specializes in late-model and hot rod vehicles, and produces $1.1 million in revenue. Not only does Donny manage his shop, but he has also been on the board of NASTF, ASE, ASA chairman and a technician trainer. Today, Donny is the NASTF executive officer, heading up the solution to our technician shortage and training problem. He also created the 10-member executive board who work on the solution.

The first step was to identify a clear picture showing anyone coming into the industry where the opportunities for their future careers are, based upon their desires and skills. Then, they had to determine what students needed to know coming out of vocational schools so that the curriculums provided would be shaped by what the aftermarket needs: a technician who can do basic services and oil changes.

Next, they had to figure out how to move new hires up the ladder quickly. The goal is to move from an entry-level tech to a master technician in less than five years, because they have found that the new generation isn’t willing to stick with process for 10 years like their predecessors did. The curriculum for these schools is now being completed. They use the ASE-based programs to include defined objectives, streamlined onboarding, safety, shop procedures, tool and equipment use, service information, and computer skills for each level of technician. The levels are defined as apprentice, maintenance, service, repair, diagnostic, master, specialist and examiner.

I’m sure as a shop owner you are thinking, “What does all of this mean for me?” Well, it means a whole lot. First, you will now be able to show a student, parent, community group, or any other interested party the specific pathway options available within the field. Next, you will be able to search a database of technicians to determine their skill level and continue their training at your shop. Both the aftermarket and the manufacturers will share this database in order to provide consistent definitions and allow employers to know what level employees they are hiring.

I can’t tell you how excited I am for the first time in many years about the future of this industry. This small group of heavy hitters are moving mountains that will change all of our lives. This group truly is the best of the best when it comes to the future of our industry.

About the Author

Rissy Sutherland

Rissy Sutherland is an auto care industry lifer, having grown up in her family’s automotive franchise business and later implementing the training and operational systems for all 300 auto repair franchise locations for Moran Industries—the automotive giant that purchased her family’s shops. She has opened more than 400 shops in her career as the executive for nearly a dozen automotive brands. She is one of the industry’s foremost experts in shop operations.

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