Published on Friday, 03 June 2011
When young people are asked to describe their ideal career, they often point to respected professions such as law, medicine, engineering, technology and banking. The automobile industry rarely makes the list.
That's a shame, because our industry is exciting and needs new qualified, motivated individuals, from auto technicians, service advisors and collision repair specialists to salespeople, business managers and human resource personnel.
The service side of the business is particularly challenged to expand its workforce. According to the Canadian Automotive Repair Services (CARS), a 2009 Labour Market Study concluded that there are "nearly 13,000 unfulfilled positions in the sector and 37 per cent of these are service technician positions."
At auto industry functions, conversations often focus on recruitment and the difficulties in hiring and retaining good staff. It's a situation that could become acute if current trends aren't reversed.
There are several reasons why the retail automobile industry is often overlooked as a career choice. The first reason is the negative image of dealerships in general.
Before the 1980s, the retail automobile industry in Ontario was less competitive than today, and less regulated. The public's experiences with "car salesmen" are synonymous with pushy deal-making.
Today, the retail automotive sector is one of the most heavily regulated industries in Canada. Manufacturers and dealers make customer satisfaction a top priority, across the board. Another reason that recruitment has been such a challenge is the lack of information at high schools. New car dealers should be working closer with guidance departments at high schools, providing the latest information about career opportunities within our industry.
The educational materials in high schools today are often outdated. Dealership parts and service departments have become increasingly computerized and high-tech, but that message isn't being communicated to the students.
Some dealerships have taken the lead and are already working successfully with high schools, accepting co-op students who are then encouraged to enroll in auto technician courses at community colleges. In some cases, these arrangements are working out extremely well for the students and the dealerships.
But along with these direct efforts, it seems we need a widespread attitude shift. In my career, I have traveled throughout Europe, and I have closely observed auto dealerships on both sides of the Atlantic.
A glaring difference between Europeans and Canadians is, sadly, the public's attitude toward the technical trades. In Europe, skilled automotive technicians, electricians and carpenters are highly respected occupations. Young people grow up encouraged to enter these professions.
In Canada, tradespeople are not accorded the same respect. Young people often regard white collar occupations as preferable to the trades. This deep-rooted bias needs to change if our industry hopes to attract the brightest and the best.
Parents, teachers, educators and governments need to do a better job communicating that being a tradesperson can be just as fulfilling as a career in banking or computers.
In my experience, many young people start working at the dealership level just to have a "job". Soon enough, they are pleasantly surprised. Dealership working environments are comfortable, elegant and financially rewarding. The work is challenging and exciting.
Not to mention the thrill that comes with working in an industry that is rapidly pushing the boundaries of its products. New makes and models are incorporating cutting-edge designs with new technologies.
Plus, the opportunities for advancement within the industry are great. With a position to match nearly every personality, you could spend your entire career under one roof. Like people? Try service or sales. Good at fixing? Sharpen those skills and be a technician.
You owe it to yourself to explore the opportunities at a new car dealership. It may be one of the most important decisions of your life.