by Jim Kerr

There are nearly 300,000 automotive technicians across Canada in dealerships, repair shops and service stations. While this sounds like a large number, there is an ever-increasing shortage of technicians. Why should you be concerned? These technicians are the people who keep our vehicles moving. Our vehicles are becoming increasingly complex and a shortage of skilled technicians will probably mean either you have to pay more for repair work or repairs could take a long time to get repairs done.

You may not see many employment ads recruiting technicians in newspapers or on the web but this doesn’t mean businesses are not looking. Most repair shops have placed advertisements in the past and either receive no responses at all or only get applications from unqualified people. Many businesses have given up on advertising and use only word of mouth to locate skilled technicians. The problem or recruiting and training skilled technicians is also recognised nationally and CARS is one of the national organisations looking for solutions.

CARS, Canadian Automotive Repair and Service, has a membership that includes technicians, automotive manufacturers, dealer organisations, parts suppliers, jobbers and training suppliers. Representing the repair and service industry, CARS has researched the problems of technician recruitment with a national perspective that includes both urban and rural areas. They have published their findings in a booklet called “Bridging the Gaps – a National Study of Career Information and Image Issues for the Canadian Automotive Repair and Service Industry”. Here are a few things they found out.

The first objective of their research was to determine what career information on the automotive repair and service industry is currently available in Canada. They found that career information about automotive technicians is neither comprehensive enough nor up to date. There is no single source of information for those wishing to enter the industry and no list of the types of jobs and the career paths possible. Much of the information is still from the 1980’s and those in positions of career counselling have a large misconception of what the trade involves.

The second objective of the study was to assess the major causes of the negative image of the industry as well as the impact of this negative image on career decisions of young people. They found the primary causes of the occupation’s negative image were because the jobs involve physically demanding work, shops are dirty, wages are low and some perceive technicians as dishonest. Surprisingly, even with the high tech cars on the road today, many people still perceive the industry as low tech that needs low to medium skilled people. Boy are they wrong!

Automotive technicians do have some positive images. They are seen as having good job security. A skilled technician can find a job anywhere in the country. The work is challenging yet satisfying with constant technical change the norm. Even though these positive images exist, they are not enough to overcome the negative images of the industry. That brings us to the study’s third objective – identify strategies to correct the image problem.

These are some of their recommendations. To attract new entrants to the trade, they need to increase awareness of jobs and occupations available within the industry. Career information must be made available to primary and secondary school systems to promote image and careers to young people.

To increase the skills of existing technicians, there is a need for employers to understand the “bottom line” benefits of training as an investment rather than an expense. New technology must be used to meet the needs for training needs of employers and employees and partnerships must be encouraged between training providers and the automotive industry.

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