There are more and more cars on the road, and the complexity of these cars is ever increasing. Who is going to service them? Who is going to fix them when they break? Already, you have to book a few weeks in advance to get your upper-end car in for its regular service. And the quality of the servicing leaves something to be desired. This is a worldwide problem, as a report in “Tire Review online” suggests. Its in the 11 Sep 2006 edition, and is entitled: “Shops in Crisis? The Tech Shortage”, by Steve LaFerre. Read the report here.
Some extracts appear below, and you will see my interest in the matter, as it relates to generational perceptions of the automotive industry, engineering and mechanics as well as the need for knowledge/wisdom continuity from the soon to retire Boomers. If this isn’t dealt with, we’re going to see a trainwreck in this industry in a few years time.
Most conversations about the Tech Shortage – real or perceived – appear wrapped around one simple, and frighteningly true, premise: The Baby Boomer generation is fast reaching retirement age. Our nation’s single largest population group will be hitting the magic number 65 over the next decade, creating a potential void of talent in a wide range of professions…. In simple terms, nearly 27% of every vocation will see a sudden shortfall in experienced talent when those gold watches are handed out.
But the real problem – at the heart of the matter – isn’t quantity. It’s quality. There’s no debate that the market for highly qualified auto techs is strong. Even the AAIA, which does not conclude that a massive tech shortage exists, offers this concession: “If there is any shortage, all of it is extremely local, it is at the high-end of the A-Tech spectrum and it is spotty.”
Over the next seven to 10 years, the industry expects that half of all the top techs working today will retire. These are highly qualified, Baby Boomer-generation techs who have seen it all and know how to fix it, including recalibrating the complicated diagnostic tools we use today…. When they retire, this group of top techs will leave behind a void the likes of which we have not seen since the first “grease monkey” turned the first wrench.
Secondary to the pending impact of mass retirement is how younger generations view automotive service as a career option. Far more high schoolers look forward to high-tech careers and owning great automobiles than there are young people interested in keeping those autos on the road. And, while most technical schools – either at the high school or post-high school level – claim nearly 100% placement of automotive service training students, such schools often struggle to attract students. Most high schools, in fact, have done away with “shop classes,” which used to serve as a springboard to service careers. Instead, schools – if they are at all interested or able – hook up with a nearby technical school, which offers an array of highly attractive IT, graphic design, engineering and fashion-design options, in addition to auto tech training.
So, why the lack of interest? Generational differences – which ultimately impact far-reaching societal perceptions – certainly play a part. For as long as anyone can remember, the Baby Boomer generation, now 76 million strong, has pretty much called the shots. Marketers love them, educators love them, bankers love them, and so do the credit card companies. Dad graduated from a “sweatshirt college,” where cheering on the school’s football team was second only to quaffing a beer or two at the frat house. Mom was in a sorority and graduated with honors. Their offspring – son or daughter – will have better, they said. Parents always want better for their kids, and ‘better’ usually means less sweat and less dirt and more respect. Nobody pictured their children being a ‘mechanic,’ as we used to call them. Moms and dads said then, and continue to say today: “No son or daughter of mine is going to work a blue-collar job. My kid is going to wear a white collar, live in an air-conditioned world and make it big time.” This remains the premise for all conversations having to do with advanced education. And, unfortunately it’s what high-school guidance counselors reinforce with parents and students.
Then, they have a great summary of the problem facing attracting the Millennial kids:
“Today, another group is calling the shots. They are the Echo Boomers. Generation Y. Gen Yers. Whatever you want to call them, they are part of a group of more than 70 million Americans born from 1977 to 2002. Gen Yers, generally, are the 32 million people who are ages 16 to 27, born between 1978 and 1989.
Understand their motivations, and you can see how to reach them. Money is important to this group, but not more than the recognition they want from employers. Failure to recognize the humanity of an employee – the need to be treated with respect – means as much or more than the money you pay them.
Underscoring how this generation thinks is the fact that they are the most protected generation in history. Everyone is above average in this generation, every kid is recognized, everyone is rewarded just for participating – and they all have the ribbons and trophies to prove it.
Any cultural accoutrement that doesn’t produce instant satisfaction is boring. Echos are a reflection of the changes in American life over the past 20 years. This is the first group to grow up with computers at home, in a 500-channel, always-on universe. They are multi-taskers, with cell phones, music downloads and instant messaging. They are plugged-in citizens of a worldwide community.
These kids have seen mom and dad cry after being ‘downsized’ from their white-collar, degreed jobs. Twenty years with a company and nothing to show for it, no pension and maybe a small 401K. They don’t want any part of that world. They want control over their fate.
The auto techs you hire in the future won’t be motivated by the same things as their moms and dads and grandparents. They are not as concerned about long-term employment as their parents were; they are more nomadic. Changing jobs on their terms is ‘control.’ If so moved, they will simply find another job down the street, and there will be many jobs waiting for these just-trained students and practitioners of automotive technology.
Sound unnerving? It is for Baby Boomers, who sweated and swore and busted knuckles to get ahead. But, while they can be defined as “high maintenance,” Gen Yers are also high achievers. They have high expectations for themselves, and aim to work faster and better than others. They have equally high expectations of employers; they want fair and direct managers who are highly engaged in their professional development. They seek out creative challenges and view colleagues as vast resources for knowledge. And, while they want to make an important impact on Day One, they desire small goals with tight deadlines so they can build up ownership of tasks.
The new reality for them is $50,000 a year 10 years out of tech school and a lot more in 15 years. If you can’t pay them that kind of money, they’ll find it working for a municipal government, state-level garage, large buying group, new-car dealership or large chain. You’ll all be in the same boat; the highest bidder gets the tech. ”