Feature May 1, 2012 by
Jim Anderton, Technical Editor
Fixing the Labour Shortage
Everyone in every skilled trade in Canada knows we’re facing a serious skills crunch and auto service is no exception. We just don’t train enough technicians, bricklayers, electricians, toolmakers or any other skill-based employees...
Everyone in every skilled trade in Canada knows we’re facing a serious skills crunch and auto service is no exception. We just don’t train enough technicians, bricklayers, electricians, toolmakers or any other skill-based employees to fill the available vacancies. And it’s not getting better any time soon. There are many reasons given by so-called experts, but here’s the real reason: Kids don’t see a future in working with their hands, with the possible exception of big-money jobs in the oil sands or offshore. Why? Three reasons: culture, pay and propaganda.
Auto repair has no culture, as we all know … it’s a trade, not a lifestyle. I know techs that love opera and some that read books voraciously. Others like the outdoors or golf and tennis. Watch the laughable portrayal of auto techs perpetrated by Hollywood and you’ think the trade is run by tattoo covered foul-mouthed outlaw bikers or morons instead of skilled craftspeople. It’s lazy writing and it works because it’s been so ingrained into the public that it’s the only vision of auto repair that they’ll accept, on TV at least. Industry associations should be monitoring the way popular culture portrays technicians and should lobby production companies and networks to get it changed. We can help by sending an e-mail or letter to CBC, CTV or Global as needed to protest … and maybe the CRTC too.
The pay issue is harder to correct. Somehow, kids used to seeing twenty-something software billionaires have developed the idea that is they get a job in the computer industry, they’ll be rich before the first grey hair appears. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Ironically, a really achievable route to financial independence is often through small business ownership by way of a skilled trade. Millionaire plumbers are a lot more common than computer code writers, despite what people think. By the time young people find out, it’s often too late to change course. Naturally, if the trade cannot competitively pay a living wage, then there will be perpetual labour shortages and poor skill levels; but outside of the expensive housing locations like Toronto and Vancouver, it is possible to have a comfortable lifestyle … and the low standard of living in the big cities isn’t a problem for just trades people.
The final issue, propaganda, is really an issue that starts in middle and high school. Auto shop classes in high schools are disappearing and many that are there are decades behind the current technology. Every signal sent to an intelligent high school student is that auto repair is where you end up due to lack of success, not where you aspire to be. One fix? Integrate entrepreneurial skills training into marketing and management and rebrand “shop” as a holistic auto business program. Of course the real problem is the lack of progressive change of any kind in Canada … and that’s a bigger problem than any skills shortage.