Fixed Ops Journal - April 2018 - F4
FIXED OPS JOURNAL
2 encouraging approaches for dealing with a shortage of mechanics
t's hard not to be alarmed at the chronic and growing shortage of well-qualified automotive service technicians, especially as the tech's job gets ever more
demanding and complicated.
But it's reassuring, at least somewhat, to
look at how industry players - dealers,
automakers, suppliers, trade groups and
educators - are responding to the challenge.
We've seen the dire numbers. The U.S. BuDAVID
reau of Labor Statistics projects a need for
nearly 796,000 service techs by 2026 (about
36 percent of techs work in dealership firstname.lastname@example.org
vice departments). That's an increase of
Fixed Ops Journal
nearly 46,000 techs from employment levels
two years ago, the bureau estimates.
But the industry will need to develop many more than that number of technicians just to replace the tens of
thousands of veteran techs who retire or quit each year. And the next
wave of techs will need a far broader skill set.
Industry leaders warn that the complexity of cars and trucks, electrical and digital as well as mechanical and design, is growing faster than
techs' capability to address it. To repair autonomous vehicles, electric
vehicles and other connected cars, techs will need to be as adept at manipulating a computer as they are at turning a wrench.
The Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) has a
name for what's gathering force: the technical tsunami. As a matter of
self-preservation, the industry needs to get a lot better - quickly - at
recruiting, hiring and retaining technicians, and providing career-long
training for them.
I encountered two encouraging examples last month of major industry institutions working to improve the condition of service techs, in
terms of both numbers and knowledge. One approach is immediately
practical, the other visionary.
I-CAR gears up
In San Antonio, I-CAR held its annual conference for its instructors
and volunteers. The meeting's theme: "One Industry/One Goal - Complete, Safe and Quality Repairs."
Not-for-profit I-CAR plays a vital role in linking the diverse segments
of the collision repair industry, whose interests often compete. Last
year, I-CAR worked with nearly 11,000 collision centers - close to onethird of U.S. body shops - on tech education programs.
About 90,000 students enrolled in 2017 in more than 200,000 I-CAR
courses: live, virtual and online. The group's professional development
An article on Page 28 of the February issue of Fixed Ops Journal failed
to distinguish between Costco and Costco Auto Program. The story was
about Costco Auto Program's partnership with dealerships to sell parts
program involves more than three-fifths of U.S. secondary and postsecondary schools.
I took part in a lively panel discussion of industry trends at the conference. But the meeting's main agenda item was advancing a strategy to
deliver on I-CAR's goal of ensuring that all collision technicians have
the skills, knowledge and training they need.
I-CAR has a five-year plan for addressing the shortage of well-trained
techs, which includes working with 10,000 more body shops. While it
remains the largest collision industry provider of welding training and
certification, it also will expand its instruction in computer skills. And
starting next year, I-CAR will offer classes in Spanish.
John Van Alstyne, I-CAR's CEO and a veteran of Detroit's auto industry, doesn't underestimate the challenges the collision repair industry
faces in developing more and better techs. As the average age of vehicles on U.S. roads approaches 12 years, he estimates that nearly threefifths of collision techs still aren't getting the level of training they need
to fix these cars and trucks properly.
At the same time, Van Alstyne says he sees a growing commitment to
tech training among body shops, automakers, suppliers and schools,
overcoming long-standing industry resistance to change.
"We need to do better," he says, "and we will do better."
At last month's NADA Show in Las Vegas, I attended the debut of
Charlie - a "virtual service assistant" developed by Bosch.
The supplier says its new artificial intelligence system is intended to
help techs and advisers do their jobs faster and more efficiently, improving customer satisfaction and making dealership service departments more profitable.
Equipped with a wireless headset and computer, a tech can ask Charlie - sort of the automotive equivalent of Siri and Alexa - for step-bystep help with repair procedures, and get connected with experts. Charlie can guide techs through a multipoint inspection and other routine
maintenance, Bosch says, and record vehicle service histories and parts
used during inspections.
"It's like having a master tech sitting on the shoulders of an entry-level
tech," Simon Thorley, global solutions design director for Bosch Automotive Service Solutions, told me.
"Your shop can tackle any job, knowing that the backup will always be
As techs acquire knowledge, so does Charlie: Bosch says the initiative's machine learning system can teach Charlie to help with vehicle
diagnostics, parts ordering and warranty claims processing. It can talk
to other dealership systems about such matters as service approvals,
billing and payment. It can notify customers about the status (including
photos), cost and wait times of their repairs.
Charlie is more a concept than production model at the moment. But
Bosch says it's looking for a partner automaker to roll out the system this
In their own ways, Bosch and I-CAR are working to help narrow the
gap in tech training to fix today's vehicles, and tomorrow's. These are
two examples of effective responses to the tech gap. Across the industry,
there need to be many more.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Fixed Ops Journal - April 2018
Fixed Ops Journal - April 2018 - Intro
Fixed Ops Journal - April 2018 - F1
Fixed Ops Journal - April 2018 - F2
Fixed Ops Journal - April 2018 - Contents
Fixed Ops Journal - April 2018 - F4
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