Analyzing the Technician Shortage
Tom Davies has tried offering 401(k)s. He also offers incremental incentives and yearly bonuses.
Yet, none of those measures seem to entice a demographic that’s in high demand at his body shops: entry-level technicians.
“Let me tell you, we’ve tried everything,” says Davies, the veteran body shop director with the Ohio-based Yark Automotive Group. “I can find a very limited amount of [technicians] under 30 that want to work.
“You can throw money at ‘em, and it doesn’t seem to matter. … I don’t get it.”
Davies’ confusion on the matter extends to his own family. The body shop operator has two sons in their early 20s—who, throughout their childhood, were made well aware of the solid pay offered in the auto industry. Yet, they shunned the profession, at least initially.
“All the way while we’re paying for college, I’m telling my wife, ‘I could put them to
work and they could be making probably what they’re going to make when they come out of engineering school,” Davies says. “One’s going for his masters, but the other one ended up working as an engineer for three months, and now he’s working for me—making more than he was as a starting engineer. And now he’s paying off all his student loans.”
Davies began his career as a body tech. He eventually worked for three independent shops
before embarking on what has become a 32-year run working for the Yark group. The work has afforded him a rewarding career. Yet, it’s not a profession that seems all that attractive to millennials, or members of Generation Z.
The shortage of technicians Davies has noticed in the auto industry is eye-opening. So much so, that’s part of the reason Davies has been on the board of the Toledo Public School system in recent years. He’d like to see more high school and technical college auto shop classes, to steer potential technicians toward the auto industry.
Davies wishes such work had more of an impact but, at least for the moment, finding potential entry-level technicians feels like an endless fight.
“It’s definitely hard work, climbing up and down the frame racks and everything,” he acknowledges of collision repair.
In Davies’ experience, entry-level workers aren’t typically intrigued by the prospect of receiving hourly pay during a three-month trial period at body shops. And that fact has helped create quite the issue within the collision repair industry, which doesn’t have enough technicians to meet demand.
“I’m guessing, within the next five-plus years, the rate for collision repair from the insurance company is going to probably double,” Davies says. “It’s going to have to. Because there’s not going to be anybody to do it. The average age in my shop right now, I’d guess, is 55 for body techs."
Davies has found one solution that seems to help somewhat, though: He offers a tool incentive program to technicians. He provides his entry-level technicians with tools and a roller cabinet. And, if the technician stays with Yark for at least two years, the tools and cabinet become their property.