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A Desperate Shortage of Auto Mechanics


shortageLast month the New York Times published a piece on the shortage of qualified technicians in the automotive repair field, highlighting the fact that “top-level technicians in the field can earn $100,000 a year after achieving master mechanic status and five years of experience.” Despite this, it’s so difficult to find good mechanics that large automakers like BMW are doing their own recruiting from technical schools and training young people for jobs at privately owned franchises. Someone has to fix those new BMWs when they eventually break down, after all. New parts are useless if no one can install them.

How can this be possible? How is it next to impossible for a repair shop to find a teen for entry-level part-time work starting at $10-$12 an hour? Millennials are struggling to find jobs that make enough money to pay for an actual lifestyle after they’ve completed college and accrued tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, yet good techs are more than in demand, they are desperately needed. Still this shortage persists.

A number of factors have contributed to creating this problem, the first being the increasing complexity of cars themselves. Only a few decades ago, a young person with mechanical ability might have spent his free time building or restoring old cars. He or she would likely have been directed to an appropriate vocational training program in high school, perhaps working in an auto repair shop part time after school. Now, however, vocational programs are less prevalent, and cars have become so computerized that tinkering to fix the problem is no longer an option. You have to have digital skills to figure out what’s wrong. You have to know how to interpret what complex diagnostic equipment reveals.

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Another problem is that in the last 30 years of the Computer Revolution, young people have focused their interest and attention on computers and gadgetry over working with their hands and so haven’t developed basic mechanical skills. Additionally, with the shift in the economy to immigrant labor, many teenagers enter the workforce later on and work customer service rather than manual labor jobs. Gas stations now hire people who will work the till only. There are no repairs going on in a repair bay in the back.

Car dealerships have an incentive to find to address the shortfall because the ratio of profit from sales versus profit from repair or warranty work has shifted towards the latter. Auto repair shops need to address the shortage in order to stay in business. We’ve previously discussed the challenges of finding and keeping a good mechanic. What is your dealership doing to ensure that it will be staffed in ten years? Five years? Next year?