The automotive and trucking industries have experienced many changes over the course of the last twenty to thirty years, both in the number of vehicles on the road today, and in the vastly improved technologies that have changed our vehicles. The technicians in the field working on these vehicles know how hard it is to keep up with the technologies the manufactures have put into the vehicles.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with these technologies, here is a taste. Computer systems have become a networking system that links multiple modules for several systems together on a single network. The modules can be programmed to provide different functions for the vehicle controls from steering and suspension to engine and climate controls and beyond.
The technicians of today’s trucks and automobiles have a tough time keeping up with the technologies of new age vehicles. Some cannot handle the changes and just leave the profession all together. The main reason for this is that employers have very few training options for their technicians. In addition, many technicians suffer from a lack of new model training. The dealers have the manufacture training advantage, but they tend to lose technicians due to lower pay scales. The independent shops take advantage of this and offer more money to the technicians with fewer benefits. Technicians typically choose to be employed by the independent shop owners, but by doing so they lose the opportunity for updated training and improved skills.
Is Better Pay the Ticket???
The industry as a whole has started examining the problem and is beginning to offer increased pay and further training, but more needs to be done. The demand to recruit more technicians increases, while the shortage continues to spread, affecting all automotive and trucking fields. The local and state governments and schools need to get more involved and help make more programs available to independent and dealer technicians, alike. Currently, the shortage exceeds fifty to one hundred thousand technicians and is growing worse every day. The vehicle technologies that are currently available need well trained, certified technicians to repair them, as will future technologies. It is absolutely necessary to make training available to all.
The pay scale for technicians will also have to change. Today’s technician has a more in-depth job than the mechanic of past years. However, years ago the mechanic got paid fifty percent and the shop owner got fifty percent. Sounds fair, right? In today’s workplace the technician gets twenty percent and the shop owner gets eighty percent. Sounds like someone is getting the short end of the stick! It’s no wonder that technicians do not like to stay in one place very long, or even stay in the field altogether.
If shops want to attract and hold onto technicians they have to give up more of the green. They have to realize that one good certified technician will make them a lot of money as long as he/she is paid well and has a fair boss to work for. If they treat their technicians poorly they won’t have them for long! The flat rate system needs to be scrutinized to reveal how the technician is being taken advantage of.
Technicians today also face another problem: Tools! Tools! Tools! In order to work on today’s vehicles, a variety of tools are needed to complete jobs effectively and efficiently. Yet, it seems like everyday you work on a vehicle you find there is a new tool you do not have and will most likely have to purchase. Few people realize that most master technicians have purchased over twenty to a hundred thousand dollars worth of tools, and it doesn’t stop there. For every new vehicle that is made there is at least one new tool that will need to be purchased in order to accurately service that vehicle. Talk about overhead! A technician just getting in to the field will need about five to ten thousand dollars worth of tools just to get a job, and that is just the beginning.
My intent in writing this column is to open some eyes to the large shortage of technicians in the truck and automotive industries and to identify some of the reasons why it is getting worse instead of better. I feel that over the last fifteen to twenty years the field has changed to the point where the technician has been left behind and it is catching up to the industry at a time when it needs us most. The industry needs to understand that if they help us succeed, we will be better able to help them.
Technicians have a great responsibility to make vehicles safe and reliable to drive and the industry has a responsibility to look after the technicians. If you look at the pay scale of technicians from the eighties and compare it to the present, you will find that they make less money, require more expensive tools, and have a higher cost of living than 20 years ago. In order to ensure that the technicians receive the training they need, the government and schools need to become more actively involved. More involvement by individual citizens who understand the issues will lead to more ASE certified technicians.