Within the ongoing push and pull between college and trade school recruitment many are saying more needs to be done to build up the number of skilled trades workers as older workers age out.
While that’s a sentiment the collision repair industry has held for years, the growing number of electric vehicles (EVs) hitting U.S. roads has caused an uptick in interest from government and career and technical education (CTE) officials in order to beef up or create programs to fit that repair need.
The collision and automotive repair industry was faced with a technician shortage several years ago that has only continued to grow. In 2021, 232,000 technicians were needed (35,000 in collision repair). More than 113,000 collision techs are needed by 2026, according to the TechForce Foundation.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that available jobs for auto body and glass repairers will only grow by 3%, or 5,000 positions by 2031.
The Review reported on a roundtable held earlier this month by Columbiana County Career and Technical Center (CCCTC)’s with Ohio Department of Development Director Lydia Mihalik earlier this month to discuss future EV job opportunities. The discussion centered on Gov. Mike DeWine’s Office of Workforce Transformation’s electric vehicle workforce strategy.
The office says on its website that the strategy is a “plan created to strengthen and build Ohio’s advanced manufacturing workforce, specific to the EV transition.”
“There are a lot of young individuals in the county that are looking for training that will expose them to new careers,” CCCTC Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Corbisello said, adding that employers in the area had been approaching him about their need for repair techs.
John Kufleitner, owner of Kufleitner Auto Group, explained to The Review that the automotive and collision repair industries have been experiencing a talent shortage because the workforce is getting older and retiring while there aren’t enough young techs coming in.
“The young people grasp all this new technology and we want to keep avenues to keep them here,” Kufleitner said. “These kids learn and they grow and they move away.”
In April, CCCTC earmarked $200 million for career tech construction and $100 million for equipment for an expansion of its career center that would house space for hands-on EV automotive and collision repair training, according to The Review.
Albany Technical College has also made a commitment to collision, automotive, and diesel technician training programs with the construction of a new facility.
The Dr. Anthony O. Parker Transportation Academy was named after the late college president who stressed the importance of supporting the programs. Ground was broken on the project on Monday.
“He [Parker] was a trailblazer in this industry,” Albany Tech President Emmett Griswold told the Albany Herald. “This facility will train individuals for good-paying jobs in the transportation industry, diesel equipment and auto collision repair.”
Scheduled to open in the fall of 2024, the $1.2 million renovation will add lab and classroom space for EV instruction.
In a Washington Post opinion piece, former NASCAR driver Richard Petty and Billy Lane, founder of Choppers Inc. and the Sons of Speed vintage motorcycle racing series, wrote that more people should be learning trades.
They start out stating their belief that, “If you’re able to work with your hands, you’ll never be out of work.”
“Trade workers are essential to our infrastructure and are critical employees in our communities. As your children are deciding what classes to take, encourage them to try out shop classes. You never know what kind of passion the courses might ignite. And talk to your school board and administrators about programming. Make sure it remains an option for kids who are trying to figure out what career fits them best.
“Trade workers are vital to our society, yet somehow over time their importance has been diminished in favor of college-based careers that not everyone is suited for. As the push for most high school graduates to pursue a [four-year] college degree has increased, investment in trade education has been slashed.”
Their opinion on funding is based on a career and technical education (CTE) primer written by the Congressional Research Service last year in which an alarming statistic was shared.
Not only has federal investment in CTE programs been declining since 1980, it’s been cut by half. Adjusted for inflation, the federal government funded CTE with $2.6 billion in 1980 and $1.3 billion in 2021.
In the primer, author and CRS education policy analyst Adam K. Edgerton wrote, “CTE is a key element of the nation’s workforce development system, providing students of all ages with both academic and technical skills to succeed in further education and future careers. Federal investments in CTE aim to increase the number of individuals with industry-recognized credentials in order to reduce unemployment, improve individual earnings, and benefit the nation’s economy.
“CTE courses can broaden students’ education and provide early exposure to several career options. They can also facilitate students’ entry into the workforce immediately after high school by equipping them with an industry-recognized credential upon completion of a career pathway. Similarly, CTE courses can lead to attainment of industry-recognized credentials after one to two years of postsecondary education or training.”
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, and noted by Edgerton, CTE participation at the secondary level decreased from 8.9 million students during the 2018-19 academic year to 7.6 million during the 2019-20 school year. Postsecondary CTE enrollment was 3.5 million for both academic years.
However, new data for the 2021-22 school year show that secondary enrollment increased by 800,000 to 8.3 million. Postsecondary enrollment remained the same.
Some in the collision repair industry have concluded that students and young adults are encouraged to become repair technicians because parents and school officials have the wrong idea about the work environment — that it’s dirty, grease monkey type of work. The reality is it’s now highly technical using computers, scan tools, calibration equipment, and other technology that requires a pristine work area.
A 2022 survey commissioned by the Collision Engineering Program (CEP) indicated that there is a lack of awareness about collision repair careers, although people are open to exploring them. It found just 17% of survey respondents were “very familiar” with collision repair or engineering. The survey revealed that those who were familiar with the industry were more likely to pursue a career within it.
Featured image: Stock photo of a trade school teacher teaching automotive tech students. (Credit: Anastasija Vujic/iStock)