Q&A: Inside NASTF’s Plan for Overcoming the Technician Shortage
Aug. 16, 2017—It was 1983, and Skip Potter sat across from his potential employer, who was pursuing over the job applicant’s résumé.
And the first sentence Potter heard was no surprise.
“He looked at it, looked at me, and said, ‘This is the most eclectic résumé I’ve ever seen,’” Potter recalls. “And I said, ‘I’ll take that as a compliment, because I like to get around.’”
With past employers such as manufacturers and dealerships and significant automotive organizations, and with past roles such as parts manager and lobbyist and CEO, “eclectic” almost feels like an understated way to sum up Potter’s 54-year career as he retires from the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF)—which serves both the automotive service and collision repair indutstries—as its executive director.
Knowing one’s path in the automotive repair industry can fluctuate quite a bit, one of Potter’s main goals at NASTF has been tackling the technicians shortage, which has persisted from the day he started at NASTF to the day he retired, in a slightly different manner. Since he started back in July 2012, Potter has established the organization’s education committee and, just over a year ago, helped form the organization’s project to attract quality technicians into the industry, Building a Road to GREAT Technicians. To really attract people into the automotive repair trade, Potter believes it starts with not just selling the technician career path, but selling the automotive industry as a whole.
Potter spoke with FenderBender about the next step for NASTF, which is currently searching for a new director that will take on the organization’s mission to ensure automotive repair remains a viable, attractive option for up-and-coming professionals.
How did the project originally begin?
If you go back and look, there's a two-hour YouTube video on our channel that came from a roundtable discussion at Vision in 2016. You just need to listen to the first part of that. Kevin FitzPatrick (president of Autologic Diagnostics) said he had two daughters, and that he didn't want them going into this industry. For two hours they talked about that.
We had a board meeting after, I talked to a couple volunteers, and we figured out the shortage was not an aftermarket problem—OEMs had the same problem. And one of NASTF’s missions is to facilitate the closure of gaps between the capabilities of the dealers and the indies. This all played into that. If NASTF is an organization that brings the OEMs and technicians together in all types of business, then certainly the issues related to finding qualified techs becomes an issue for all of us.
So, at that board meeting, the board assigned this project, Building a Road to GREAT Technicians, to the education committee. Since then, been charged with pulling industry together to find out what we can do.
And how exactly does the project operate?
Our main goal is to identify gaps in the effort to correct the industry problem and facilitate the solution of the problem. Education committee members work to provide a structure on which individual efforts will be more effective. We work with many different organizations and hold conference calls that provide updates on ways anyone from any part of the automotive industry can help.
How does NASTF pitch the project to people that want to help fix the technician shortage?
You know the diversity of our industry. There are a lot of opportunities in this industry, and we almost confuse kids if all we do is going into a high school and say, get into this industry as a tech and you can do body work. Sure … but maybe they don’t want to do that. But that doesn’t mean they should leave the industry. If you’ve got talent, there are all these other things too.You have to look across the industry as a board opportunity.
The industry has to have a common message that connects with techs, from school through retirement. I can relate to it. I’m not alone in this industry. There are significant number of stories like mine where someone started off pumping gas or under the hood as a tech, that sticks around the industry long enough and invests themselves in the industry and they turn it into a career that is progressive through all the different areas of the industry. Writers start as techs. Educators start at colleges. We are an industry with a tremendous number of career opportunities and the story just don’t doesn’t get told enough. I hold myself as one of those examples.
How has the project grown since the inception?
It’s in its early stages, but getting a lot of interest. We had a hard time getting everyone to attend project’s quarterly conference call at first. Now, they're lining up to be on that committee. We’re up to 51 members now. It shows the industry is interested in closing that gap between what we need and what we got.