Technicians Wanted Part II: Schools can’t keep up with demand

Jason Cannon

April 11, 2014

With the technician shortage making competition for graduates fierce – 60 percent of Successful Dealer survey respondents say they recruit technicians through local tech schools – educators are left struggling to fill the need. “If I had twice as many graduates, I have no doubt that I can put them all to work,” says Jerry Clemons of the program he runs at Elizabethtown (Ky.) Community and Technical College, which enrolls upward of 100 students annually.

RELATED: Technicians Wanted Part I: A large and growing problem

“Ever since about 2007, when the economy kind of went upside down on us, we’ve been maxed out,” Al Clark, diesel tech instructor at Lane Community College, Eugene, Ore.,  says of his school’s program, which has a 24-student enrollment cap. “We’ve had literally, and to this day, anywhere from 40 to 100 guys waiting to get into the program at any given time. If we could just snap our fingers and have another instructor and have the facilities to do it, yeah, it would be great.”

There is currently a wait list for the diesel tech program at Lane Community College. – photo courtesy Lane CC
There is currently a wait list for the diesel tech program at Lane Community College. – photo courtesy Lane CC

John Speights, diesel instructor at Shelton State Community College, Tuscaloosa, Ala., says his state-owned school has a policy against turning students away, so all enrolled and eligible applicants are admitted. While his program technically is never full, it is often crowded. “I would like to have 15-16 students, but most of the time there’s more than that sign up for the class,” he says. “Really that’s too many, but we’re state-owned so we have to take all-comers.”

Demand is so great, Clark says, that many of his students are hired before they even complete the program. The market for technicians was so hot before the 2008 recession that many of his students were hired out of the classroom after barely two weeks.

“We do get a lot of guys that get a job and leave the program, and we consider that a (person who completes the program), because they got what they needed,” he says. “Or we get guys that come in … that are just trying the trade out and for whatever reason just decide to do something else.”

Speights, too, says his program has students who find their future doesn’t lie in a repair shop, but adds many of them will find employment in a dealership’s parts department, or even turn to Shelton State’s truck driving school to earn their CDL and hit the road.

Most of Speights’ students complete the program, primarily due to arrangements he’s made with local employers to hire his students but allow them to continue their coursework. “I try to deal with companies around here that will let them work after school or on the weekends,” he says. “I’ve got a couple agreements with businesses that will hire students, but encourage them to stay in school.” About 70 percent of Speights’ students find work right out of school, he says. That’s in line with Successful Dealer research that found 67 percent of respondents described their average technician applicant as a recent trade school or certification program graduate.

Speight also offers encouraging words for women looking to enter the technician force. “The sky is the limit (for females) because a lot of companies are eager to hire them,” he says.

see Technicians Wanted Part III: The changing face of tech candidates

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