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An Opportunity for the Future

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Todd Bourgon is Executive Director for the Motor Vehicle Retailers of Ontario, an association representing over 1,000 new car dealers in Ontario. You can reach him at [email protected]. Photo MVRO

Filling the technician shortage requires multiple strategies.

One of the most pressing issues facing our industry is a shortage of qualified and skilled service technicians. This summer, MVRO, with support from the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA), released an Ontario-specific labour market report for the first time. 

Plentiful opportunities

Researched and written by MNP, the report underscored the fact that career opportunities are plentiful for the next generation of automotive service technicians, though at present there remain significant challenges in recruiting and training them. 

In Ontario, we’ve seen an 8.5% growth in new vehicle registrations between 2017 and 2022. During that time, however, we’ve seen a decline in the number of working service technicians in the province. Between 2016 and 2021 the total labour force of active service technicians declined by 3.2%, from 56,680 to 54,855. On top of that, the existing workforce is aging, and the number of people entering is not sufficient to offset those who are retiring.

So, what can be done? At MVRO, our approach has been to look at both the short-term and longer-term considerations. In the short term, immigration can be an effective way of reducing the number of vacancies. An advantage is that it enables those with significant experience already servicing and repairing vehicles on a specific brand, the opportunity to come to Canada and fill a much-needed void. The disadvantage is that the current process is cumbersome and time-consuming, requiring a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to demonstrate there are no workers available locally to fill those vacant positions. It can take between 12-16 months to fill a position through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program with 20-30% of the costs associated with the LMIA process. 

Critical shortage

To put into perspective how critical the current labour shortage is, as of Q1 this year, there were approximately 3,000 vacancies in the automotive trades in Ontario alone (double the number prior to the pandemic). Additionally, the estimated annual revenue loss per technician vacancy (depending on the labour rate) ranges from $429,000 to $644,400 per year. 

According to the report, while steps are being taken to close the gap and MVRO has been able to recruit almost 300 technicians through the TFW program over the last two and half years—it will take until at least 2030 before we see any kind of load levelling—assuming we are graduating people at the same rates we are currently seeing today. 

Armed with this information business owners, including dealers can make decisions on how to manage their hiring practices, giving them a fact-based approach to what’s required, how long it will take and how many vacancies can be filled. The report also serves to give ammunition to colleges that teach technical trades, by showing parents the opportunities that are available for students that enroll in their programs.

Collaboration is key

Yet a big part of making it all work, is active, ongoing collaboration from industry, education, and government. We’ve already seen both dealers and colleges step up to the plate when it comes to aggressively recruiting for career opportunities in automotive technical roles and now, we’re starting to see the Ontario government taking a more active role in promoting skilled trades by making tech courses a compulsory part of the curriculum. 

Still, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done. Federally, the current immigration rules still make it very tough for dealers to bring technicians into the country because they still have to prove there isn’t a Canadian available to fulfill that role. Changing and or eliminating what is essentially a futile LMIA would represent a big step in streamlining the recruitment process, reducing costs, and getting those vacancies filled. Combined with a strong, ongoing effort to educate, train and recruit technicians at home, the result can be long-term sustainability for our industry as well as other skilled trades professions which are vital to both our provincial and national economies. 

 

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