It’s no secret that there is a major shortage of automotive technicians. In a recent study less than a year old, the Tech Force Foundation estimates that in the next eight years, the demand for techs will be three times higher than the Bureau of Labor Statistics had once reported. That means, instead of 20-thousand techs each year, there will be upwards of 75-thousand techs needed. Since their original prediction in 2014, the BLS has done another study which shows similar numbers as the Tech Force Foundation (See graph below).
To fill this void of auto techs, the Tech Force Foundation listed a few recommendations in their study.
First, the old perception of that technician jobs are for “grease monkeys”, needs to change. Second, the industry can no longer wait until the end of the education pipeline to see who is interested.
“Changing perceptions will require building a pipeline into the industry before parents and students have decided that they aren’t interested in STEM subjects... and before the old perceptions eliminate any interest among parents and career counselors in learning more about the opportunities in the transportation occupation.”
Also mentioned in the study as a way to reduce the pain of tech shortages is to pool resources. In Utah, the Utah State Prison is doing just that. Each year they graduate 12 inmates with an automotive technology certificate. The men’s facility receives this training from Davis Technology College, based in Kaysville Utah, just north of the State’s capitol, Salt Lake City.
For inmates to receive the certificate, they have to pass tests, and practical exams within the 1200 hour course.
Program Manager for Davis Technical College at the Utah Department of Corrections, Dan Powers says, the inmates leave the program with the knowledge they need to succeed in a dealership or auto shop, “They start with the very very basics auto fundamentals like maintenance, things of that nature,” He said. “As they progress through the program they do complete the program ASE preparation test courses, they learn about the new technology alternative fuels … We really try to cover all aspects from basic theories to advanced automobiles.”
This program is something correction departments all around the country are doing. The MacDougall Correctional Institution of South Carolina, the Massachusetts Department of Correction in Massachusetts, the Southern Desert Correctional Center in Indian Springs, Nevada and the The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in California are just a few similar programs across the nation.
The problem with courses like these are that employers are nervous to hire ex-felons. Powers says it’s a valid concern, but he’s optimistic about the program, “We are always… hopeful that employers will give these individuals opportunities as they are released from prison. There is a stigma attached to them, but they’ve served their debt to society and the best thing we can do to help cut incarceration rates in this country would be to allow these guys to go to work.”
He goes on to say that many ex-felons prove themselves as loyal employees once they get their foot in the door, which is the hard part.
“Former inmates talk about the difficult process of getting a foot in the door. But once that happens, whether that's in an independent shop or dealership, the employers find they have a loyal and dependable employee because the graduates were given that opportunity. Oftentimes they say ‘All I needed was a shot and I got it’,” Powers said. “Once that happens they make the most of it.”
In speaking with dealers and shops that have hired the program graduates, Powers says the reviews are mostly positive and employers are impressed with all that the inmates know, “They have noted these guys have loyalty to them because of the fact they gave them a chance. Employers are always Impressed with the graduates knowledge base.”
Never knowing where the inmates will land after getting out of prison and graduating program, Powers trains all of them in foreign and domestic car repair, and makes sure every inmate interacts with every manufacturer available.
How do you feel about hiring ex-felons? Is funneling graduates from a program like this realistic for your service department?