Dealerships across Canada face a “desperate” shortage of qualified technicians, according to the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association.
Just how desperate? To fill roles, one dealership group has recruited technicians from around the world. Michael Wyant, COO of the 29-store Wyant Group in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, said his group has recruited technicians from Germany, Russia, South Africa and the United Kingdom to fill tech roles at its stores.
“We’ve sort of been searching the world for people that want to come to Canada to be techs because there’s a greater opportunity here than maybe the opportunity is in the country that they’re living in,” Wyant said.
CADA President John White said the technician shortage is compounded by the fact that more vehicles are on the road and therefore dealers are being increasingly called on for repairs.
“Across the board, there’s a desperate need for qualified technicians coming in,” White said. “I’d have to say that is probably priority No. 1 as the [number of vehicles on roadways] grows and the number of units in operation that are floating in dealers’ areas are growing.”
Vehicle sales are expected to decline in the coming years, putting pressure on retailers to squeeze more revenue out of their fixed ops departments. But the pool of qualified technicians to fill openings in those departments is not nearly large enough, thanks to a skills shortage, White said.
Despite the automotive sector’s high wages, White said, it is often difficult to attract candidates to the industry because of “the stereotype of the grease monkey” in the service lane. The industry needs to do a better job of showing that the modern technician works more with advanced technology than ever before, he said.
“Definitely a technician today, you’re working on computers, you’re working on technology. You walk into some of the shops today, and it’s clean and it’s high-tech and it’s bright. So it’s not only the perception of the job itself but also the environment in which they work and the facility in which they work.”
Darren Smyl, owner of Highland Ford in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., said that when he bought the dealership in 2011, it was clear that he eventually would have to replace technicians who were approaching retirement age. Smyl started an apprenticeship program and emphasized building relationships with local schools.
“It’s crucial that the instructors there know that Highland Ford supports them,” he said. “We get a lot of our placements because we have a good relationship with the teacher or instructor.”
Wyant said his group has formed good relationships with local high schools and polytechnic schools in an attempt to get younger people interested in technician jobs. The dealership group pays for secondary education for younger people who start out in the company’s fast-lube stores and car washes.
“There’s a lot of people tha don’t know that that would be a good career,” Wyant said. “And the income opportunity — a great technician can make a six-figure income. They just need to get trained and go through the process.”
GROW YOUR OWN
In 2018, the CADA launched its Auto Career Start website to attract young people and others to the automotive industry.
The association also has worked with the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) in Ontario to expand its online Cars and Jobs portals nationwide. White said he hopes those websites and other initiatives will help attract more people to th industry.
Susan Gubasta, TADA pre ident and CEO of Mississauga Toyota in Ontario, said dealerships should take an active role in recruiting people into the industry, especially students who might not think of entering the automotive sector after they graduate.
“We have to grow our own farm team,” Gubasta said. “W go out to job fairs, we talk to students, we talk to the youth and we say: ‘This is what we have, and this is what we offer. If you’re willing to take a chance on us, we’re willing to take a chance on you as long as the fit is there.’
“Technicians are fewer and farther between, and as time goes on, what has happened in our industry is that the youth don’t understand being a technician today is not just about getting dirty under a car. It’s al about technology now.”