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Automotive Industry Career Fairs Address Tech Shortage by Connecting Dealers with Next Generation of Repairers

Printed in Fixed Ops Magazine

The difficulties of finding and hiring qualified technicians to enter automotive repair shops have elicited concern and dismay from industry businesses across the country for years. Estimating that there are around 750,000 automotive technicians and mechanics nationally, the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the industry will need an additional 46,000 technicians by 2026. By increasing that number with consideration to the amount of technicians retiring or leaving the automotive industry for other reasons, this reveals a worrisome shortage of techs available to keep up with customer demands.

Dealers may wonder if this shortage really impacts them, and the answer is yes! Since experts estimate that a typical tech generates $1000 in gross revenue per work day, a position that goes unfilled for just 30 days could mean a potential loss of $30,000 to the dealership’s fixed operations.

Although the obvious solution is to hire recent tech school graduates, Executive Officer of the National Automotive Training Task Force, Donny Seyer, has reported that the number of high schools offering automotive shop programs is diminishing, causing a further decrease in the supply of potential techs. This pervasive shortage presents a huge obstacle for dealers looking to hire more techs. But what if there was a forum that would provide access to hundreds of entry-level techs eager to pursue an automotive industry career?

Automotive Industry Career Fairs provides exactly this type of much-needed opportunity by connecting dealers and other automotive industry businesses in need of qualified help with recent graduates seeking work and students who will soon be entering the workforce. Associations throughout the automotive industry have listened to the concerns and demands of their members related to the tech shortage and, as a result, career fairs targeted directly to the industry have become more prevalent. A significant number were from the efforts of the Collision Repair Education Foundation who hosted nine career fairs in the spring of 2019.

According to Brandon Eckenrode, Director of Development for the Education Foundation, “Connecting students with the array of career opportunities available to them in the industry is a core component of the Education Foundation’s mission. Our transportation career fairs provide the perfect opportunity for industry employers to meet and interview students who have trained for entry-level positions in collision repair and other related automotive professions.”

The Education Foundation frequently collaborates with local industry organizations to host career fairs in their areas and this alliance serves to attract even more potential candidates for companies to interview. The Education Foundation reports an average of 400 students in attendance at their career fairs, as well as dozens of hiring businesses from multiple segments within the automotive industry. Eckenrode noted, “While the students might be able to hear about these companies from their instructor at school, the events help these students see the actual companies that are looking to hire them when they graduate.”

The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association (CADA) partnered with the Education Foundation in March to host a Denver Career Fair during CADA’s Annual Denver Car Show. Explaining the decision to collaborate with the Education Foundation, Mark Zeigler, serving as Director of CADA’s Clear the Air Foundation, said, “CADA brought back our career fair last year, but it was less successful than we were hoping. The Education Foundation puts on at least 25 career fairs each year and has a system in place. We thought that partnering with them would give us a significant bump in terms of participation and exposure. There is a huge skills gap in this country, and Colorado is feeling the pinch. It makes sense for multiple industry segments and groups to join forces on something like this – the more we can work together to help alleviate the tech shortage problem, the better off we will all be.”

Zeigler continued, “The 2019 career fair was much better than last year’s event. We had better participation by the students and employers. Having it on the auto show floor was a big draw to the students as well since it enabled them to explore as much as they wanted. Several of the company participants have already said they want to participate next year, and we’ve also heard from a few who missed this year’s deadline but want to sign up for next year. Every single student I spoke with said they were glad they came.”

Career fairs held specifically for the automotive industry provide students with exposure to a larger number of possible employers in a short amount of time. For this reason, Zeigler encouraged students to participate in career fairs in their areas. He stated, “The Education Foundation’s career fairs are the best opportunity students will have to conduct their own interviews with numerous companies they may or may not have considered. The amount of time saved is significant, and the opportunity to interview 20 or more companies that are actively hiring in a short time frame is invaluable. It would take weeks to reach out to that many companies, schedule interviews and make the appointments. It’s really a no-brainer.”

Zeigler further pointed out, “Automotive industry career fairs could also be a great opportunity for those students who haven’t decided what career to pursue by allowing them to engage in meaningful dialogue with those in the industry. It’s a great chance to ask questions and get a sense of what’s out there, plus it’s a great time to talk about career paths and other options, such as parts manager, service advisor, service manager, or even sales.”

Automotive Industry Career Fairs also provide a great opportunity for hiring authorities to “directly interact with students who will be entering the workforce in the very near future. How many chances do you have over the course of a year to interact with so many students who have made a commitment to work in your field?” Zeigler asked, stressing, “It’s a win-win situation for automotive industry businesses and students pursuing an automotive career.”

Eckenrode agreed that Automotive Industry Career Fairs are beneficial for everyone with a stake in the industry’s future. He shared, “These events are important to help address the issue of an aged workforce. We need to address this at a local level by getting local employers involved to demonstrate the need for technicians and these programs. Career fairs are also helpful for showing there are plenty of jobs available for those who are properly educated. If this industry is serious about attracting a new generation of talent, they need to support these types of events to showcase the opportunities these students have within the industry.”

The Education Foundation is already gearing up for their Fall 2019 lineup of automotive industry career fairs with ten events already on the agenda and an interest in expanding into more areas if the opportunity presents itself. The Education Foundation’s career fair season will kick off on September 27 at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis MO. October’s career fairs will take place at Oakland Community College in Detroit MI, at the Mercedes-Benz Learning & Performance Center outside Dallas TX, at Contra Costa College in San Pablo CA, and at Cerritos Community College in Norwalk CA. The Mercedes-Benz Learning & Performance Center in Robbinsville NJ will provide a location for a career fair on November 21. Additional locations have been chosen but details have not yet been finalized, including Houston TX, Chicago IL, Northern Virginia, and Miami FL.

For more information on how to participate in a career fair or establish one in your community, contact Brandon Eckenrode, Director of Development, via phone at (312) 231-0258 or email at Brandon.Eckenrode@ed-foundation.org.