A Unique Way of Fixing the Tech Shortage

Jan. 12, 2018
Chris Hadfield is looking for unique ways his organization can combat the tech shortage. Here’s a virtual tour of the mobile trailer he uses to recruit students across Minnesota.

It’s a topic that’s discussed at 20 Group meetings. It’s a topic presented on at industry events. It’s a topic that’s a real-time struggle for shops across the country.

Yet, the technician shortage persists.

The question for many hasn’t just been, “How do we connect with the younger generation?” But, instead, “How do we get them to realize the automotive industry is filled with opportunities?”

Chris Hadfield and his team aren’t just trying to answer that question—they are, indeed, showing kids those opportunities.

The director of the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence remembers seeing a welding trailer at the state fair a few years ago. Upon walking in, he wasn’t the only one in awe over the welding simulators. The kids—and, more importantly, their parents—were captivated as well.

And that’s when an idea came to mind.

Hadfield and the Minnesota center decided to recreate that event with the "Transportation Careers Exploration" trailer, which is made to entice young students with new technology and education on what this industry really has to offer.

FenderBender received a virtual tour of the trailer, learning about who’s involved, how it’s equipped, and what takeaways it’s provided for any shop owner looking to ease the tech shortage.

What is the purpose of the Transportation Careers Exploration trailer?

After seeing that welding trailer at the state fair, I thought that this a good way to get outreach to kids. Especially when it comes to auto body, how do we get kids interested?

We can’t continue to fight the technician shortage problem. We have to figure out how to do outreach and get kids excited about the industry, within their own culture. We have to put our best foot forward and engage them in super fun ways involving their medium, culture and social network. We have to get to their level. In today’s world, kids get hit from every direction constantly with multimedia.

You can put on as many open houses as you want, but the student may still not come to you. Also, with the way the industry is perceived amongst parents, students telling their parents that they need a day off to visit a tech college isn’t going to work anymore.

This way, we can provide hi-tech stuff to not only reach out to younger students, but students that can’t afford it.

What types of equipment and education will the trailer provide?

The trailer features seven monitors—six smaller ones and one large one. It will include equipment such as a paint simulator, an alignment machine, sanding machines, various engines including diesel, and even a flight simulator for aviation.

Other equipment that still needs to be donated includes a driving simulator, an automotive scan tool with factory domestic and foreign, bidirectional capability, inspection cameras and more.

How much was the initial investment?

We ended up writing a grant in October 2016 and received notice of the $36,000 grant in November 2016. In December 2016  we began planning.

The trailer, which cost $37,000, was custom designed and built in Indiana through Interstate Trailer. The trailer arrived in April 2017, but we needed a truck to pull the trailer. We were able to negotiate an old snow plow truck from Dakota County (located in Minnesota) for a cheap price.

Since we didn’t have any money for graphics, and didn’t want to go through the legal steps of requesting copyrights for photos, we borrowed an HD camera and took photos ourselves.

For other graphics, we put out a call for a contest and the winner designed what we needed for a cash prize.

The price of the actual trailer is not the expensive part, it’s the things within it, such as equipment, but also staffing. We rely on volunteers.

We’re at $80,000 now, having fundraised $42,000 of that sum. The projected full price of the trailer is $500,000.

Some of our sponsors include Luther Automotive Group, AASP, Snap-On, Subaru, LKQ,/Keystone, AAA auto parts, U-Pull auto parts, Innovate Tools , St. Anthony Mobile, and MNCars Campaign.

What goals have you set for the project?

One of the goals of the trailer includes increasing the enrollment of secondary and post-secondary programs by 15 percent by the start of the fall semester in 2020.

We also want to increase the completion rate of both programs by 15 percent by the fall semester of 2020. As well as increase the number of highly skilled and certified graduates entering the workforce with our employer partners by 15 percent by fall 2021.

What events are scheduled in the coming months?

Even though the trailer is still a work in progress, expected to be fully completed by spring of 2018, there have been 36 events already scheduled between November 2017 and July 2018.

We are scheduled to go to the “World of Wheels” and “Back to the 50's,” which will both bring a large crowd.

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