As Baby Boomers reach retirement age, there will be more job openings than workers to fill them – especially in physical trades like plumbing, construction, and automotive technology. Trade schools and colleges are working hard to find enough young people to take over these job vacancies, but Dave Wright, the fixed operations director at Shaheen Chevrolet in Lansing, Michigan, believes he has a good solution: mentorship.
Wright saw that many of his veteran mechanics were having trouble with the physically demanding job due to arthritis and old injuries. Because they moved slowly, they weren’t as efficient as they had been in their youth. Some lost hours because they couldn’t work the long shifts they used to. Many of them had lost their passion for the job and seemed to be counting the days until retirement.
Wright himself was dreading the day when these aging experts would leave the shop, taking with them decades of experience and perfected techniques. It seemed unfair that their knowledge would be lost simply because their bodies were slowing down.
Then he had an idea.
What better way to combine age and wisdom with youth and vitality than through a mentorship program? Wright paired up two of his veteran mechanics with five apprentices – two for one mentor and three for the other. The mentors don’t do any of the physical labor; they coach the apprentices on diagnostics and repairs, and their pay is based on the quantity of the apprentices’ work.
“We’ve told them that we don’t want them turning wrenches anymore,” says Wright. “We want them to pass along their thought process, their diagnostic ability, and teach these young people what took them 30 years to learn.”
This approach gives the older techs a new purpose and a job that doesn’t take a toll on their bodies. The younger techs are able to learn at a faster pace than usual, since most junior techs don’t get to do diagnostics or repairs at first.
The program seems to be a win-win-win: less physically demanding work and better pay for the mentors, a wealth of knowledge for the apprentices, and an up-and-coming group of highly-trained technicians for Wright’s business.
“If these guys can pick up 80 percent of his knowledge over the next two years, I’m 300 percent ahead of where I would have been,” Wright says. “Now I’ve got five guys with 80 percent of his knowledge, whereas before I had one person with 100 percent and a body that just couldn’t physically do it.”
There is also the added benefit of on-the-job-training for the young generation that will scramble to fill the job vacancies Baby Boomers will soon leave behind. Even if a young technician has completed a college course or trade school program, there’s nothing like personal training under the supervision of an experienced elder.
Mentoring: The Future of Auto Tech Training?
Structured mentorship programs could be the key to surviving the labor shortage that is predicted to hit the industry within 5 to 10 years. Not only will the auto repair industry lose thousands of experienced technicians, it will also lose their accumulated expertise, tips and tricks, and shortcuts that make them customer favorites and go-to techs. Without these programs, industry leaders fear lost revenue because they simply won’t have enough qualified technicians to meet customer demand.
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