Solving the Technician Shortage

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 | May 2019

Solving the Technician Shortage | May 2019

MWACA Teams with Industry Partners to Drive New Talent to Automotive

Chris Chesney Has Some Thoughts on the Technician Shortage

“Five years ago, I would have said, ‘No, just a quality tech shortage’,” he says.

“The truth is there’s a people shortage. It’s not just our industry—it’s our country, our economy.”

Chesney is the senior director of customer training at CARQUEST Technical Institute, a subsidiary of Advance Auto Parts. He’s an industry veteran, a board member of the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) and, at the 2019 VISION Hi-Tech Training and Expo in Overland Park, Kansas, a hard guy to reach. Chesney is a mover and shaker—you can see the gears turning above his head as he holds forth on a variety of subjects.

In 2019, no subject is hotter than the technician shortage. Chesney believes the dearth of qualified technicians, though, is indicative of a larger problem—for the past several decades all across America, many tech/vocational schools have been seen as an inferior alternative to a four-year college degree. Now, however, ambitious young graduates who were promised jobs by virtue of simply graduating with some minor knowledge in their field haunt job fairs, blast dime-a-dozen basic resumes to online career resources such as Monster and Indeed.

“It’s society’s payback for guiding everyone down one rabbit hole and pulling away from the skilled trades,” he says.

“The data clearly shows that a decent wage doesn’t require a college degree—it requires a skill set. We live in a time when technology is rampant and accelerating at a pace that no one envisioned. The skills required to design and implement that technology and also to service it just aren’t there.

“It’s not due to lack of people wanting to come into the industry; we have enough kids in vo-tech school today to solve the technician shortage, to satisfy the need. The delta is caused by boomers retiring and defections from the industry. The problem is we eat them. We eat our young.”

The Myth of “Paying Your Dues”

What Chesney is concerned about isn’t fearing the future but reconciling the past. Since the dawn of the Model T over 100 years ago, most vehicles didn’t require ultra specific training in order to repair them. Technicians grew from the same starting point at the beginning of their careers, able to ply their trade on most any vehicles that came through the shop, learning as they went and eventually growing into the masters who could fix anything, opened shops of their own, maybe handed them down within the family or sold them to trusted employees.

Those days are gone. Gone, too, is the idea of “earning your keep,” according to Chesney.

“We used to put them on the lube rack or told them to push a broom and empty the trash. You gotta earn your way to be a technician and pay your dues. This is 2019! Those old analogies and old ways of learning a trade was stagnant in those days,” he says.

Chesney is adamant that the complexity of today’s vehicles simply cannot be reasonably taught in a two-year general program.

“You can’t even be taught to service the maintenance side of the vehicle in two years, yet we rely on the same two-year education model that we used 50 years ago to prepare a young person to be an automotive technician,” he says. “As a shop owner, we expect them to do an inspection, oil change, tire service, brake job, maybe some suspension work—you can’t do that in a two-year environment.”

Building the Solution

Another solution lies within: MWACA is in the early stages of a robust apprenticeship program.

Partnering with over 50 allied corporate sponsors (including Chesney’s employer, Advance Auto Parts/Advance Professional), the MWACA apprenticeship program combines the strength and collected know-how of MWACA’s member shops with Carquest Technical Institute and Worldpac Training Institute (CTI-WTI). Together, they also count S/P2 as the third contributing organization for a triumvirate that’s as credible as it is visionary.

“We’re putting that into action,” Chesney says, excited about the future he’s helping to craft.

“[Advance] is committed to carrying the banner. We want to create ‘the ask,’ I always say—that’s how you solve problems and keep people interested, keep things moving. The best problem solvers ask the right question, find the answer, and keep asking questions.”

Together, the group is poised to provide modern, high-tech training and skills-based knowledge assessments programs to the greater Kansas City metro area and grow from there. The pilot program will provide all participating shops with a blended learning program of classroom/hands-on training as well as online mentorship and assessments to establish base competencies for its students, beginning their path to mastery of the basics.

Over time, students will have the opportunity to develop more specific skills germane to their specialty of choice, empowering each and every technician to shape their future within the industry and becoming powerful, proficient and professional members once hired.

The Future is Collaborative

For Chesney, another key piece of the future is the Automotive Institute of Science & Technology, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Plans are in motion to launch a groundbreaking new school and institutional model for others like it around the country in an effort to produce educated, highly skilled technicians.

Formalized by Congress several years ago, the program allows for public school districts to work in tandem with vocational community college and various industries to provide six years of publicly funded high school education in addition to skills-based learning and accreditation. The school in Colorado Springs already has a charter, an agreement with the school district, and the first students will enroll in 2020.

Chesney describes an atmosphere in which students will work as teams to solve increasingly complex problems. The curriculum is being written based on contemporary projects/problems they’ll encounter during their entire tenure at the school. The first two years include a lab-based class of their choice, as well as lifestyle prerequisites teaching such skills as balancing a checkbook/bank account, owning a car, and more.

“We want to overhaul technical education in America,” he says. “It’s an audacious goal, and I don’t have any aspirations to remodel education, but if we can remodel automotive education and create a curriculum that’s meaningful, we can provide a pathway forward not only for our children, but for the entire industry.”

He describes the NASTF synergy with the proposed educational model. The scope is large and the ambition vast, but it boils down to critical work NASTF is doing to design a framework for education that meets the needs of today’s shop owner. 

Fast Facts:

According to the 2018 NPR story “High-Paying Trade Jobs Sit Empty, While High School Grads Line Up For University,” students with technical skills are making more than most of their four-year-degree counterparts.

Three out of 10 high school grads nationwide who go to four-year public universities haven’t earned degrees within six years. At four-year private colleges, that number is more than 1 in 5.

In the U.S. alone, over 30 million jobs earn $55,000+ that don’t require bachelor’s degrees.

Job seekers with technical educations are more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials.

States around the country have seen the data and are responding:

Iowa businesses and community colleges are working together to increase the number of “work-related learning opportunities,” including apprenticeships, job shadowing and internships.

Tennessee has reduced the cost of tuition at technical colleges to zero.

California is spending $200 million to improve the delivery of career and technical education.

In February 2017, Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan announced a $100 million proposal he compared to the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II to account for the skilled trade shortage.

National Student Clearing House Research Center

Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce

Additional Resources For more information, please visit:

MWACA Apprenticeship Program

NASTF & The Road to Great Technicians

Universal Technical Institute

Automotive Institute of Science and Technology