To shop owners who’ve been around awhile, it’s no surprise – we’ve seen it coming for years. The repair aftermarket is facing the same demographic dip that will soon affect every skilled trade: an ageing workforce. There simply aren’t enough young Canadians coming up to replace the coming wave of retirees as the Baby Boom generation races into their sixties. It’s a national problem, but in terms of training, it’s a provincial responsibility. We’re going to need to train more techs, which means finding young people to enter skilled trade programs at a time when they will have lots of opportunities in other more glamorous fields. We’re going to have to adapt.
Immigration is one answer, but it’s not enough; and it fills the gaps in major cities while leaving much of Canada in the same labour vacuum. One way is to attract groups that have traditionally avoided or been excluded from the trade. Young women are a natural population, but they have the same choices and alternatives, plus there will always be less appeal for the automotive aftermarket compared to “cleaner” trades. It’s time we considered a relatively invisible group in the repair trade, namely the disabled.
While repair is still physical work, it’s a lot less so than it used to be. At SSGM we’ve covered fully-automated tire changers and many diagnostic tools that could easily be configured to work around many issues. More and more repair is oriented to diagnostics instead of brute force. Can a tech with a prosthetic function in a typical bay environment? Sure. Can a dyslexic tech diagnose and repair cars and light trucks? They already are and in many cases you don’t even know it. Do all your techs need a driver’s licence? In Europe it’s common for auto techs to use public transit to get to work and many don’t drive. Could your service writer operate from a wheelchair? Of course, but the relatively minor changes needed to accommodate the individual challenge of these potential techs scares away many shop owners. They don’t have to.
In many cases, such as weak vision, it may be as simple as setting computer systems for a larger type face or better lighting. Wheelchair access ought to be a part of renovations anyway to avoid expensive retrofits as legislation changes. We have a surprising number of highly experienced techs who can’t read…yet most owners would be nervous about a new hire that uses a text-to-audio reader. A tech with manageable ADD would be a non-starter for most, yet many shops have techs who struggle with drug and alcohol issues. Is there a double standard here?
In a nation where fewer and fewer young people want to pursue a trade, we need to attract and hold onto every trainee we can find. There’s another time bomb that’s ticking for the trade and that’s the threat to car culture itself. Most techs will tell you that they were interested in cars long before they signed on to a training program. Cars are less interesting to many of today’s young people, who are gravitating to computers and social networking. And for an increasing number of environmentally minded young Canadians, cars and light trucks are regarded as environmentally irresponsible. We simply have to find and hold onto every young person who has an interest in the repair trades, regardless of issues like disability. There’s a workaround for more issues than you think….and you can’t teach enthusiasm.