“The need for skilled, trained technicians will only grow. As cars become more complex with sophisticated, integrated systems, the industry will need training that is not only faster, better, and cheaper, but also training that updates dynamically as the OEMs grow and develop their own best practices.” – Matthew Wallace, CEO
Even the most high-tech automobile is, at its core, a machine. And machines break sooner or later, sending most owners into a dealership or independent garage for service. But lately, and no pun intended, there’s a wrench in the works: a shortage of qualified mechanics. This comes just as the proliferation of electronic controls for the engine, suspension, steering, brakes, and nearly everything else has made already complicated motor vehicles even more so.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics says an average of 76,000 mechanics are needed each year between 2016 and 2026, both to replace those retiring or leaving the industry and to fill some 46,000 projected new openings. Employment in the field dropped by 10 percent during the Great Recession, bottoming out at 587,510 jobs in 2010. It has only recently come close to its 2007 level, with 647,380 mechanics employed in 2016, according to the BLS. Today, Americans are driving a larger vehicle fleet more miles than ever as mechanical and electronic complexity have outpaced improved vehicle reliability. The result is a labor shortage that has increased workloads among existing automotive technicians and is leading to more hassles for customers.
The challenges facing the industry are numerous. Although pay can be competitive after a few years of turning wrenches and reading diagnostic scanners, the job requires a deep commitment to learning the necessary mechanical and digital skills. The tools of the trade are expensive. Plus, enticing today’s tech-oriented youth into a profession that requires getting their hands dirty can be difficult.
“We’re working around a bit of a culture shift from years ago,” says Gary Uyematsu, national technical training manager at BMW of North America. “It used to be that people would work in a lawn-mower-repair or tire shop, but there’s not so much of that anymore. Years ago, if you worked at a gas station, you changed oil and worked with cars. Now, you sell candy and chips.”
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