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Taking Action: Universal Underwriters Hopes New Collaborative Program Will Help Recruit Techs

Universal Underwriters Hopes New Collaborative Program Will Help Recruit Techs

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According to the Automotive Service Association’s (ASA) 2005 “How’s Your Business?” survey, 57% of service shop owners need experienced technicians more than any other type of employee. The survey, which compiled results from more than 400 vehicle service businesses, revealed that 24% need entry-level technicians, and 19% are looking for apprentices.

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So, what are those shops doing to get those valuable human resources? Frankly, not much. Most shops still get new techs through referrals and word of mouth (82%), while 51% use classified ads, and 36% recruit techs from other shops. Only 27% use vocational schools as recruiting tools, and 16% use the Internet as a way to find new techs.

The automotive service industry is going to be in a lot of trouble if the situation doesn’t improve soon, experts say. Nearly $1.7 billion is spent yearly on automotive maintenance and repair, accounting for nearly two-thirds of revenue generated by the entire automotive aftermarket. Yet there aren’t enough techs to do all of that work; the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) reports a current shortage of about 60,000 technicians.

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And the problem is only expected to get worse. More miles are being driven these days, the average age of vehicles is rising and higher technical skills are required of technicians. There will be a yearly shortage of 35,000 qualified entry-level automotive technicians through 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS projects that, by 2012, annual demand will spike to 101,184.

It’s an industry-wide problem that needs industry-wide solutions, some say. Universal Underwriters Group (UUG) is one company looking at the big picture. Specifically, the insurance provider is turning to cooperative partnerships as a way to attract more techs to the industry.

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On Nov. 3, 2005, association officials, repair shop owners and technical educators met with UUG executives at UUG’s third annual Aftermarket Industry Conference in Las Vegas. The lack of qualified technicians in the automotive service industry topped the agenda.

“Our first step to overcoming this technician shortage is to find better ways to promote the profession to high-school students,” said David Willett, eastern division vice president and general manager for UUG, at the conference.

Organizations can do that, Willett said, by working collaboratively with others to improve the image of the automotive technician as a career path. “Automotive technician jobs can be lucrative careers for the right individuals,” added Willett.

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Currently, no formal program for facilitating industry internships exists, and UUG hopes to change that with its new High Octane Jobs program. Peter Clune, general manager and vice president of the western division of UUG’s automotive specialty division, introduced the concept at the Aftermarket Industry Conference.

As part of the High Octane Jobs program, UUG will help automotive aftermarket associations set up internships in their members’ shops. Each student who completes an internship receives a scholarship for an approved automotive repair training program. Willett said UUG will match up to $1,000 in scholarship dollars with an association.

To participate in High Octane Jobs, a business must be an association member, and a student must be a graduating high-school senior or technical school/community college student enrolled in an automotive technology-related program. To be eligible for a scholarship, an intern must enroll in an automotive technology-related program at a technical school, community college or other association-approved program, Willett said.

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Each business controls its own internship programs, according to Willett. The business chooses the intern and the school, determines the length of the internship and sets the criteria for training. For its part, UUG will help associations promote the program to members and insure the student interns.

There’s evidence, too, that programs like High Octane Jobs are much needed. Mike McHugh, executive vice president of UUG, said a recent survey found that 85% of UUG customers do not have an internship program, and 86% are not aware of sponsorship programs designed to attract young people to the industry.

Currently, ASA and the Tire Industry Association (TIA) have signed on with High Octane Jobs, which will be piloted during the first quarter of 2006. If the program is successful, UUG will encourage additional associations to participate.

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“We want the program to be a conduit for throwing more light on the subject,” said Willett. “We’re not saying we have the end-all solution, but, by us introducing High Octane Jobs and talking about it, we hope to make a difference.”

For more information about High Octane Jobs, call 800-840-8842, ext. 1616.

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