How is the technician shortage impacting your business?

July 3, 2017
Using basic numbers, it will take three technicians working at a productivity level of about 105% to produce the billable hours needed for a shop to sell $1M in revenue.

Editor's Note: This article was orginally published July 3, 2017. Some of the information may no longer be relevant, so please use it at your discretion.

The year is 1977. I had recently taken a job in the field of automotive service and repair as an entry technician after completing a program associated with the high school I was attending. While the auto mechanic’s program gave me the basic fundamentals, the true learning began with my foray into actual work as a “mechanic”, as we were labeled back then. I remember the myriad number of vacuum lines and the introduction of the catalytic converter, which only served to complicate basic “drivability” complaints that a “tune-up” may or may not fix. There was very limited use of OBD I.

I witnessed first hand many changes all around me. The Federal Clean Air Act was amended by Congress in 1977 to include the I/M Program by states held in non-compliance. First, with the EPA/EPD mandating the beginning phases of emission control, were the manufacturers’ response to the EPA’s call to reduce tail pipe emissions. This, following on the heels of the Big Three releasing some of their most potent and venerable engines made available to date:

These engines answered the public cry for “more power”, but they were not at all eco-friendly. My personal recollection was that the last of the killer high-horsepower engines were produced in 1970 to 1972. Manufacturer’s warranties were something like 24-months or 24,000 miles. Certainly, nothing as significant as the warranties provided in 2017.

The other mechanics in the shop were venting openly about the added complexity of electronic and vacuum-based emission controls. I don’t recall any of them owning a DVOM, let alone any type of scope with which to perform diagnostics. Of course, our shop had an older Sun Engine Analyzer. I was the only mechanic who took an interest in using the Sun Scope to assist me in diagnosing engine performance complaints.

Even though there would not be formal emissions testing for many years to come (around 1995 in the 13-county metro Atlanta area), the “writing was on the wall”. There seemed to be an inevitable fallout of mechanics, who lamented that it was easier to swing a hammer or work as a plumber rather than “learn all that junk” under the hood of cars coming into our shop, thus began the exodus of mechanics from our industry, and it has continued unabated throughout the years since that time.

What is the impact?

Now, it’s 2017. The shortage of qualified and well-trained, well-equipped technicians continues unabated. Many of the seasoned veterans are retiring or taking other positions in automotive service and repair which do not require eight to 10 hours a day bent over the fender of a late model car complete with the complexities of electronic computer-controlled everything!

Exacerbating this shortage is the fact that all the technical schools combined are simply not turning out sufficient numbers of graduates to fill this ever-widening gap. According to the Automotive News Fixed Ops Journal, February 15, 2016, "The numbers are staggering," says Mark Davis, automotive programs manager at Seminole State College of Florida. The college's Associate in Applied Science degree program is a national curriculum leader that graduates about 100 technicians a year. There are Ford- and General Motors-certified tracks, as well as a generic import-brand track. Davis says Ford and GM estimate a need for a total of 15,000 new technicians for their U.S. dealerships over the next five years. Davis estimates the North American shortfall at more than 25,000 in that same time period.

"I don't think there are enough training institutions in the U.S. to keep up with the shortage," says Davis.

In the same publication, “industry analyst Harry Hollenberg concurs that the technician shortage is big and unlikely to change soon. Hollenberg is a founding partner at Carlisle & Co., a Concord, Mass., firm that collects and analyzes data for automakers.

Carlisle's most recent report on service technicians and advisers, released in 2014, found that an ongoing industry churn sees 20 percent of luxury-brand mechanics and 25 percent of volume-brand mechanics leave their jobs each year.

They may be leaving to go to another dealership, to an independent shop or even to a nonautomotive job. Every departure is an expensive disruption.”

My company, Automotive Consultants Group, Inc. (ACGI), has been involved in sourcing not only technicians, but every other type of job within automotive and truck service and repair. While this was never part of our original business plan, it has become an important service we provide our clients. This means we have first-hand experience in sourcing and securing these positions. The reality? Finding a good, qualified, well-trained and well-equipped technician can be daunting and lengthy!

How can you keep your highly-Valued technicians?

In theory, this should be simple – find out what they want, then find a way to give it to them. However, in practical application, it is far from simple. Continue reading.

According to Jeanine Hein, who lives and breathes the auto industry as the general manager of Serpentini Chevrolet in Strongsville, OH, “The shortage is real, and it’s a real problem." She adds she must invest in her staff to ensure they don’t look elsewhere for a better opportunity.

“It’s extremely difficult to find technicians, which is why you want to hold on to them,” she said. “We have a good core of technicians, and we have very little turnover, which is unusual in the industry. I credit that to the fact that we pay extremely well and we incentivize them.”

But what, exactly, do the technicians want?

Wish list for technicians

U.S. technicians were asked to select two changes that would have the biggest impact on ensuring "quality, efficient repairs." About a third of the 12,000 respondents identified communication with service advisers as an area that needs fixing.

   Technician-service adviser communication    33 percent
Parts issues29 percent 
Tech training24 percent
Service information21 percent 
Diagnostics scan tools18 percent 
Special tools/equipment17 percent 
Access to technology (e.g., tablet apps)12 percent 
Phone/online tech support10 percent 
Field tech support8 percent 
New model support6 percent 

Source: Carlisle Technician Survey, 2014

What does this mean to you?

It’s safe to assume that the fact you’re reading this article puts you in close proximity to the technician shortage in some way, shape, or form. Even consumers who have their vehicle serviced or repaired are not immune to this problem. If higher compensation or benefits for technicians are one way to keep your staff, simple math would dictate the need to pass on at least part of this added expense to the end consumer – your customers. If not, then the gross profit margins associated with about one-half of your revenue stream (labor) will suffer, and further decrease your already tight net operating profits.

Strategies to find techs

Here at ACGI, we’ve refined some techniques and strategies that have proven effective. They can be as simple as networking (complete with incentives to those you choose to network with), advertising (including radio spots), job boards (industry specific), and good old fashioned word of mouth. While none of these strategies are ground-breaking, when done properly, they can help you to fill your staffing needs. It should be noted that an attractive compensation package is simply the starting point.

Thought must be given to your company culture and employee development. Remember – you’re competing with every other reputable shop in town. One piece of advice – think outside the box, i.e. if you were a tech, why would you want to work for your company? This cannot be overlooked. A steady paycheck is just the starting point. If you’d like other ideas or simply need some help, please contact us at: Please use our contact page, and we’ll be happy to help.

How to get involved

From its website,, “ASE promotes excellence in vehicle repair, service and parts distribution. Almost 300,000 Automotive Technicians and Service Professionals hold ASE Certifications. ASE Certified Professionals work in every part of the automotive service industry. ASE certifies automotive technicians and service professionals, not the auto shops.”

Why does ASE exist?

"To protect the automotive service consumer, shop owner, and the automotive technician. We test and certify automotive professionals so that shop owners and service customers can better gauge a technician’s level of expertise before contracting the technician’s services. We certify the automotive technician professional so they can offer tangible proof of their technical knowledge. ASE Certification testing means peace of mind for auto service managers, customers.”

The National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) — also from its website at — exists “to help educators recruit, mentor, and train tomorrow’s technicians; the National Automotive Technician’s Education Foundation (NATEF) offers accreditation for automotive technician training programs.  By utilizing standards established by industry, NATEF examines the structure, resources and quality of training programs with the goal to improve the quality of training offered at secondary and post-secondary, public and proprietary schools.


The current existing technician shortage is real. Our first-hand experience has proven this to be true. Sourcing, hiring, and retaining qualified personnel to assist you in turning out quality repairs is certainly no small task. And, as has been covered here, will only get more difficult with each passing day. Using basic numbers, it will take three technicians working at a productivity level of about 105% to produce the billable hours needed for a shop to sell $1M in revenue. Much care and consideration must be exercised if you hope to hit your shop’s sales targets. Again, we’re here to help answer any questions or provide some feedback to your current efforts.

About the Author

W. Scott Wheeler

W. Scott Wheeler, President of Automotive Consultants Group, Inc. (ACGI) is a shop management expert in the transportation industry, with over thirty-six years’ experience in the automotive, trucking, heavy-equipment, marine, motor sports and defense aerospace industries. He holds numerous ASE credentials, including two Master’s Certifications.

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