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Mechanic Attrition and What It Means For You

The serious lack of skilled mechanics is at an alarming high and still accelerating. Current estimates suggest a shortage of about 500,000, and in a few years without intervention it could reach 2 or 3 times that.

Nicholas T. Pinchuk, chairman and CEO of Snap-on, made the following remarks in a keynote address to the Technology & Maintenance Council 2013 Fall Meeting and National Technician Skills Competition in Pittsburgh.

"Despite the critical importance of the vehicle technician to the U.S., there is a critical shortage of them, and that situation is getting worse, observed Pinchuk. Four times as many technicians are retiring as are coming into the industry within the next 5 to 10 years,” he noted.

It is so acute that executives from GM, Subaru and Nissan openly stated this at another recent trade show. There is what could be termed a ‘Brain Drain’ from the industry.

This ‘Brain Drain’ yields two major problems;

  • The current technician staffs lack the skill set and experience to perform many tasks.
  • Those still in the industry will have even less time to diagnose and repair vehicles properly.

This leads to much higher cost for repair, because there will be an increase in ‘parts swapping’ to see if a part fixes a problem. This could lead to exponentially higher repair cost.

In March 2013, ‘Warranty Direct’ of the UK reported on a study of labor rates at garages in the UK. They found that labor costs had increased from about 7% to almost 15% in one year with supposedly ZERO inflation. This translated into UK costs that varied from £83 ($125) per hour to £201.60 ($300) an hour!

An interesting note here is the per capita GDP in the UK is actually $2000 less than in the USA. (Source BLS)

The technician that actually does the repair on average receives about 20% of the labor charged for his work, everywhere in the world. This is down from 50% just 15 to 20 years ago.

He still has to cover all of his personal taxes, medical insurance, tools, equipment, repair manuals, training, and business insurance ---well just everything. You see most are 1099 subcontractors, and his career is at the mercy of the marketing and business skills (good or bad) of where he works.

Now factor in the car population is increasing every year, as well as the complexity of the vehicles. This complexity is so great that many car dealer technicians don’t know how the new systems work or how to diagnose or repair them. They don’t even have time to train for the new systems.

The carmakers believe that a focused recruitment program is the answer, but unfortunately it really doesn’t address the underlying causes of the problem. That underlying cause like many things is money. The car makers, parts makers, and auto organizations are able to recruit people with promises of $50k to $100k a year incomes, but after the new recruits get a taste of the real numbers ($35k a year; source BLS) they leave typically within two years.

What should you do?

Immediately become proactive. Buy a quality scan tool like the 2X80S and add to that a professional grade software package like ScanMaster. While you are at it, pickup a copy of the manufacturers repair manuals for your cars.

Next, start ‘playing around’ with your new toys to really learn what they can do for you. Learn to diagnose your own car, heck you might do this part time for others as many will not heed this warning!

Is this really necessary?

I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years observing the new professionals (those under 10 years experience) and many don’t know how to use a pc properly to find the data they need. If they are successful, these same technicians skim read the manufacturers instructions, which causes mistakes because they invariably miss critical steps.

There is now an effort underway to unite the mechanics worldwide so that they get compensated properly, and obtain the necessary benefits appropriate for someone with their skills. Also to get co-operation from all industry manufacturers to aid and recognize their contributions, so that everyone can work together for a common goal.

Currently most manufacturers are still using the outdated practices of “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt’ to manipulate the technicians and this hurts the industry even more. Eg: Bob Stewart of General Motors is to speak at the SEMA show on 6 November 2013 about ‘Clone and Counterfeit tools’ but he and GM refuse to disclose their definition so that an open and honest discussion can go forth.

Private conversations with some organizers of this ‘United Auto Mechanics’ effort are yielding suggestions of ‘Apprentice Programs’ while there is still some very skilled talent left. And of course other suggestions.

How do auto technician skills compare to other industries?

Many auto technicians and industry leaders compare technicians to the medical professionals, which have two models (male and female) with several submodels. The last model count I heard in the auto service and repair profession was somewhere north of 25,000 and that data is extremely old.

Did you know that most medical professionals get it wrong 40% of the time?

This is statistics from their profession. That would never happen to a mechanic or he would be forced out, but it is OK for medical.

What happens if the technicians get organized?

There is power in numbers with a single voice for change. With 48 hours commerce would stop, and that is only the start!

To highlight some of the consequences of American’s trucks not operating, Nicholas T. Pinchuk said:

  • After 24 hours,supermarkets would run out of fresh foods
  • Assembly plants would have to halt production.
  • After 72 hours, people start hoarding food and gas stations run out of fuel.

"These are the facts that the public does not know," he said.

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All above information is based on published information as of 01/2015 or products purchsed to confirm
 

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