By DeWayne Demland
What we do in this job is considered by most people to be blue collar work. The same is thought about the technicians with whom we interact. But with the complexity of vehicles these days, is this a fair classification?
With the introduction of computers into this industry, the necessity for technological and technical know-how has reached an all-time high. Look around the shop. How many tools use microprocessors of one form or another? Think about the IT people who keep us working in our organizations. Are they considered blue collar workers? What is the difference between blue collar and white collar workers? Some of the things that we can take note of are differences in the pay scales. Blue collar workers are paid much lower than white collar workers. Blue collar works, most often, are not given the respect as that of a white collar worker. Blue collar workers, most often, are considered “less educated” than white collar workers.
To stay at the forefront of the vehicle technologies that have been produced, our education for repair technicians and parts specialists had to grow exponentially. Let’s face it: the vehicles of the 1960s were much simpler than those of the 1980s. Those of the 1980s were simpler than those of today.
Education has been the key to staying ahead and being able to service these vehicles. So what is the difference in the education-levels of those in blue collar jobs from those in white collar jobs? The answer is simple the piece of paper that shows the educational value. The blue collar worker, in the automotive industry, works toward certifications. White collar workers work toward degrees.
But what is the difference in what they are taught in both these arenas? Realistically, there are none. One is considered professional training, the other academic. What does that truly mean to the everyday person? Academics is a more “formal” education than “professional” training. Does that mean that the information is any less important or relevant? It has been only in the last two decades that automotive training has even reached an associates’ degree level of recognition.
We should examine the difference in the value of these two types of education. Everything today must have a dollar value attached to it. How do we compare these two types of education equally? Has our educational system created issues that affect this industry or other industries? How many hours a year do you have to invest in education to stay current with the changes made in vehicles? Should all that time and money expended on this education be considered worthless?
In order to have respect in the employment arena, you must have a degree. But having an education alone is not good enough. So what education exists at that level for the automotive parts supply chainsspecialist? How does someone get into this profession without experience and become good at it?
In order to be the very best parts specialist, we must stay current in the technical as well as the management end of the business. We need our certifications to stay current on the repair and design of the vehicles and a business degree to manage operations. Counterpros must do all this but get paid a small sum.
Perhaps we need to reevaluate our business practices. The old saying, “You get what you pay for,” may have a bigger implication than we realize. Should we give these people an incentive to take the next step in their education, or just accept the few who will do it without any incentive?
HOW EDUCATION IS ACCREDITED
Let’s look at how the academic accrediting agencies look at education. As a general rule, depending on how the school terms are set forth, 10 hours equal one credit. If a bachelor’s degree is typically 126 credits, it would equate to about 1,260 hours.
If a technician went to school for 18 months at four hours a day, five days a week, that would be 1,560 hours. Are these schools accrediting these students a bachelor’s degree education? The accrediting body for “professional” education is not the same as for “academic” education. These two bodies have extremely different views on how this education is “recorded” on some piece of paper. And who gets caught in the middle of this difference? The people who have taken the risk and the motivation to improve themselves the students.
Now let us take this to the next step, the employers. The population in the United States is approximately 300 million people, according to census estimates. With unemployment reaching an all-time high not seen in the past five decades, we are looking at approximately 13 million people unemployed today. It is speculated that there are 500 applications for every one position available in the market today. That is a very competitive market, to say the least.
It is also speculated that more than half of those 500 applications will be from people who have a bachelor’s degree of one sort or another. Human resource departments do not truly have the expertise to sort through all the applications that they are receiving for each job position. They look at “guidelines” that they either developed by themselves, or are supplie by the department that is looking for the applicant. What does this mean to the people applying for the jobs?
If the guidelines are “bachelor’s degree or equivalent work experience,” who is being looked at first? Let’s look at a possible situation where this may have an impact. The position is for an auto parts repair buyer in a corporation. One applicant has a bachelor’s degree, and has a certificate as a CPM, Certified Purchasing Manager. He has 20 years of experience in purchasing electronic components for an electronics manufacturer. Another applicant has 30 years of experience in the automotive parts aftermarket, 100 certificates from automotive parts manufacturer’s training programs, and 150 college credits, but no degree. Who would be strongly considered and who wouldn’t?
What is likely to happen is the applicant with the degree is looked at while the person without the degree is dismissed without any action. Since the job is supposed to be purchasing automotive repair parts, who has the best knowledge base in that area of “expertise”? Who has the knowledge of the true “players” in the market? Who is going to have the knowledge of the top-quality parts that need to be purchased? Let’s say the company gets 500 applications for this position and 250 have degrees. Does the applicant who has 30 years of true experience get looked at for this position? The reality is, he or she probably doesn’t.
This industry must devise a better way to quantify different types of education, so that they may be placed into a more recognizable format that anyone can understand and differentiate. We also need to educate managers on how to properly define a candidate’s experience for the positions they are looking to fill. By no means is there an easy fix for this. It requires breaking down many years of prejudice and lack of forethought. But it only requires one person to get it started.
DeWayne Demland began working in the family parts store at a very young age. He’s been a manager and has earned more than 100 manufacturers’ training certifications. He has taught the parts business at the high school and university level and is currently designing an online training program for aftermarket parts professionals.