Written by Betsy Fata, Solera Content Writer
If you pay attention to the automotive news cycle, you’ll hear a familiar refrain: there’s a widespread shortage of skilled technicians. Shops and dealerships have been hurting for entry-level workers for many years now, and the need is only increasing as more vehicles, often with complex technology packages, are rolled out to consumers.
CREF, the Collision Repair Education Foundation, estimates there are 14,000 new job openings every year, due to turnover and workers leaving the industry, which means 14,000 new technicians are needed each year to keep the industry growing and thriving. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the job outlook for educated automotive service technicians is very positive—so, what explains the lack of bodies to fill these bays?
One potential deterrent could be the perceived difficulty of the career in relation to the expected pay. Sure, you can potentially earn more as a full-time Starbucks barista than as a first-year technician. Carpentry and trucking have starting salaries similar to this kind of trade work. However, according to CREF’s Director of Development, Brandon Eckenrode, if technicians are willing to put in the hard work in the beginning of their career, they can potentially make six figures in as little as five years. It may be that the level of difficulty and technical skill required is enough to deter younger workers from entering the field, despite the potential payoffs.
The schools responsible for educating and training the next generation of technicians face constant uphill battles with each incoming class—lack of funding and scarce resources have contributed to a decrease in U.S. schools, with more than 100 of these specialized programs closing in the last five years.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. CREF is one of several organizations determined to build up the industry’s workforce and educate skilled men and women to address the growing need for techs. Since 2013, the number of schools CREF supports has grown from 443 to 599, awarding grants and donating materials to the programs that sorely need the resources.
Many educators are forced to come up with their own materials to train students or even dumpster dive for spare parts to show in class. With the support of CREF, these teachers can equip their classes with brand-new equipment, donated software and crucial items like safety glasses.
Bodyshops have also started giving back to these programs and contributing materials and spare parts that will help the future workforce gain valuable experience in the classroom and in the shop. In case you’re not moved by our podcast on this topic and the stories of dedicated teachers stretching just $50 per student for an entire year of class, consider a high-school class whose program can’t afford to purchase professional shop shirts for the students. Knowing that a professional look can help students feel confident and work at their best level, local businesses have started sponsoring uniforms and outfitting students in the look of a polished, skilled technician—proving the old adage that even a small thing can make a big difference.
CREF was founded under the name I-CAR Education Foundation in order to fund schools and train a workforce that was steadily aging. CREF created and distributed curriculum to the high schools and colleges so students could graduate with industry-recognized training and entry-level skill sets. In 2008, CREF became a solely philanthropic entity and has since raised over $100 million in support for these programs.
If you’d like to learn more about education and donation opportunities with CREF, please visit collisioneducationfoundation.org.