In the March issue of this magazine, Editor Brian Cruickshank raised an important question in his monthly column. He asked, “What’s wrong with the aftermarket?” His question specifically targeted the industry’s efforts regarding education and the shortage of qualified technicians and other automotive professionals. I would answer that the problem is not the aftermarket; the problem is that there are simply not enough individuals in the aftermarket working to address the problem.
I have heard the question over and over again for years: “What are we going to do to address the shortage of qualified technicians and automotive professionals?” The answer is still the same and comes down to individuals getting out and selling the aftermarket face to face, from the ground up. A single video or pamphlet is not a solution, but merely a tool to use as part of the steps described below. We will lose ground in a changing market if we do not physically get out into our communities and begin doing what is necessary. In other words, we shouldn’t just talk about it.
The steps I’ve outlined here only scratch the surface. As I have found, there are local activities you can get involved with right in your own neighborhood. Your challenge is to find them and implement into your program. It’s important to know, however, that they all work together and are not as complicated as you might first expect. Once you get the ball rolling, support and participation from others will come.
I do recognize that there are others in our industry who are making a difference with their efforts in addressing automotive education throughout the country. I am also very grateful to industry leaders and manufacturers who provide training programs, scholarships and other contributions relevant to industry needs. These groups have given us a great start, but they can only go so far if those involved constitute a minority.
As a parts distributor, recruitment work has a positive influence on my business and image towards the general public and other aftermarket businesses. Service centers recognize that I am not just working to sell parts, but to support the future of the aftermarket. I wear a Felt Automotive logo shirt whenever I attend events and proudly represent my role in the industry. My name and business name are now well known to more than my top accounts. I have parents express appreciation to me for my role in their children’s successes, as well as former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt’s thank-you for participating as a professional in state education needs.
The following ideas demonstrate a few steps we can all take to tackle this issue. They are based on what I have found to be successful in attracting a new generation into the industry.
Secondary Education Programs
A key first step is to visit and create a relationship with local high-school automotive technology instructors. This helps you see how their programs are currently working and what state their classroom technology is in (i.e. tools, manuals, vehicles, etc.).
Let the teachers know how valuable they are to students and the aftermarket industry. Help them understand the opportunities in today’s high-tech industry and the shortage of qualified technicians, as well as marketing and sales professionals, distributors, jobbers, etc.
Explain exactly what the aftermarket is, that it comprises 75 percent of the automotive repair business, as compared with OEMs. Also, make sure they understand that this industry manufactures high-quality parts for both OEM and aftermarket channels, and how this plays into parts proliferation.
Consider ways your business and other aftermarket professionals in the district can support these programs by donating parts, tools, manuals and other necessary items to keep programs current and applicable to today’s aftermarket. Help them maintain certification and qualified teaching levels. Volunteer to teach or bring in a professional for different topics.
Ask to meet school principals, career and technical education directors, career counselors and all those who assist students in choosing career paths and understanding future opportunities. They should be well equipped with any industry recruiting tools and promotional items.
Introduce everyone to the Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium (GAAS) Scholarships. Be clear that you are available to walk teachers and students through the application process. Let them know you would love to work with them as a sponsor for their students. A great public relations opportunity is to present scholarship recipients with their awards at scholarship awards assemblies. This brings recognition to the student, program, industry and your business.
Volunteer to participate at school career nights specifically any event that includes parents. This is a direct way to recruit top students who are preparing to graduate and are interested in learning more about the automotive industry. It’s also an important step in addressing the perception many parents have of the industry and informing them about what a career in the automotive field actually is. Be prepared with success stories of other students who received scholarships and are currently working in the industry. Don’t forget to hand them a scholarship application already filled in with your business’ name and contact info. Direct them to those at the event representing the university or vocational schools where they can use the scholarship and continue their education.
Educate yourself on mentoring, job shadowing, school-to-career any program set up to provide a clear path into an automotive profession. They are all essential to participate in. This will give students an opportunity to begin working with aftermarket businesses as they continue their education at the university or vocational training levels. Who will students remember when applying and choosing a workplace once they graduate? Which businesses will already have top students employed because of career assistance? Yours.
Post-Secondary Education Systems
It’s necessary for university and vocational faculty members to participate in those secondary education programs and events listed. Their role is to directly support students as they progress into an aftermarket or automotive profession. They should be a partner with aftermarket professionals on all committees that are involved in education and state programs such as Skills Contests (VICA), their local Automotive Advisory Committees and Secondary School NATEF Committees.
Automotive educators at university and vocational schools should work with their school’s recruiters to be involved in attracting top students into automotive programs. Supply assistance in providing scholarships, internships, etc. to help them present a comprehensive program that will enable students to step successfully into an aftermarket career.
Give them ownership of the distribution of applications for the GAAS scholarship with a clear understanding that you will work with and sponsor as many students as they can get.
Recruit them as members of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA). This will help them stay up to date on the industry and understand where the aftermarket is going.
Introduce them to aftermarket programs such as the “Be Car Care Aware” campaign to host vehicle check-ups with student involvement. Assist in recruiting professional participation of the event. Why not purchase manuals and stamp your business logo on the back for distribution?
Introduce them to AAIA’s Car Care Professional Network (CCPN) and other industry efforts to create a new perception of the aftermarket. Demonstrate how the CCPN benefits the industry and all those who participate.
Aftermarket Businesses & Professionals
Take the first step and call at least one high-school automotive instructor. Understand that the aftermarket will get nowhere if there is not a clear and positive representation by those who work in it.
If the aftermarket is the largest segment of the automotive industry covering manufacturing, parts distribution and repair, why are we the “best kept secret” from educators, schools, parents and the general public? We need to look at what the AAIA and others offer and recognize the many tools available to help make a difference.
This is simply a win-win situation. And isn’t our bottom line, the bottom line?
Steven R. Hoellein, AAP
Felt Auto Parts Co.