The pandemic has accelerated the “new normal,” and that means addressing the skills shortage in the aftermarket is more critical than ever.
It’s time to upgrade, as vehicles transition to complex machines that are brimming with technology and electronics. Everyone, from shop owners to technicians to jobbers, needs to be better equipped to deal with these challenges. “Our members have been telling us that they’re often confused about what programs are out there,” says Jean-François Champagne, president, AIA Canada. “What does their provincial government offer? What’s available through the federal government?”
As a result, AIA Canada has just released its landmark “National & Provincial Programs, Grants and Incentives: A Guide for Automotive Aftermarket Industry Learners, Workers & Employers,” a comprehensive guide to both provincial and federal programs for training as well as financial support, all across Canada. The 185-page guide lists information by federal as well as provincial jurisdictions, and focuses on:
– individuals considering trades training;
– individuals already in trades training and those that have completed trades training; and,
– businesses and employers.
Advice and links
The guide provides detailed summaries of the many resources, explaining to whom they are targeted, as well as links and contact information. Shops, technicians and those considering a career in the industry will find valuable advice and guidance to programs providing training and financial support. “These issues have been central to our members for quite some time,” says Champagne. “The pandemic provided us the opportunity to complete the work. This is a resource members have been asking for.”
There are also some statistics that may not be surprising to those in the industry. For example, the aftermarket contributes $21.6 billion to the Canadian economy, employs 389,000 Canadians, and is projected to grow by 13.4 per cent by 2022. These figures come from the AIA’s 2018 Outlookstudy, as well as information collected through research with the Conference Board of Canada. “The next Outlook study will be released in 2020, and we’ll continue to update our projections into the future,” says Champagne.
It may be too soon to know how COVID-19 will impact the industry and those figures. “Through surveys of our members, we know the pandemic had a large impact,” says Champagne. “Ninety-one per cent of respondents said they were directly impacted. We’re seeing signs of some return to routine, but how long will it take to get back to normal sales and activity? There is still much uncertainty.”
The industry is in perpetual change, both due to technical advancements in vehicle design and the shock of the pandemic. That’s why, more than ever, there’s a need to find programs and funding that can support that change. “There’s no other resource available than this guide,” says Champagne. “Our members have told us that there are programs out there, but it’s very complicated to apply. They needed a centralized resource.”
It’s even more challenging for medium to small size enterprises. ‘They don’t have the same overall human resources structure that you would find in large organizations.” says Champagne.
There’s been a tremendous effort by the industry and training organizations alike to upgrade the curriculum and programs, and at a pace they’ve never seen before. In addition to a federal program for the indigenous population, other provinces also offer training and support to this segment. The same applies to programs for women; the federal government provides an apprenticeship incentive grantgeared to women, as do a couple of provinces.
The AIA works with women through the Advancing Knowledge in Automotive Exchange (AWAKE)program. “We do a lot of research and education for the industry about the importance of job offers that are gender neutral, and creating an environment that is welcomes women and minorities,” says Champagne.
Lack of harmonization
Even though it’s only been out for a couple of weeks, the guide has already generated a great deal of interest. “Our members are responding very well to the call to go beyond the scope of who traditionally has been attracted to the workplace,” says Champagne. “Releasing this resource that highlights that there’s an additional incentive for various minorities and women, will encourage them even more.”
Compiling the list of resources also showed the need to recognize the complexity of these programs and the lack of harmonization between provinces. “This limits the mobility of the workforce,” says Champagne. “This report will be used in our work with the government to demonstrate the need for harmonization. We lived through COVID-19 and the recognition of the aftermarket as an essential service; its implementation was very different from one province to the other, creating a lot of confusion in times when people are looking for clarity.”
For example, in Québec, the aftermarket was deemed an essential service only for emergency repairs. Collision repair was not included despite the fact that it’s part of the aftermarket. Ontario had a much broader definition, which included collision repair. “In Ontario, our industry had clarity, but in Québec, the situation was dangerous because people did not know what to do,” says Champagne. “Now we’re working collaboratively in Québec to build better channels of communication, so as not to endanger the safety of people trying to fix cars, providing the repair services you need to first responders, grocery delivery services, people working in hospitals.”
Aftermarket an afterthought?
There are more Canadians working in the aftermarket than in natural resources or agriculture. Still, Champagne says the aftermarket is too often an afterthought. “There are 26 million vehicles on Canadian roads, and we’re the ones who maintain these cars,” he says.
The vehicles that you buy in 2020 are dramatically different from cars made just 15 years ago. “There are sensors and radar connected to computers that can bring a vehicle to a stop and fully control it,” says Champagne. “You can’t fix a computer with a wrench.”
“There’s a tremendous amount of upscaling that’s required. The industry is investing heavily to provide comprehensive training for service providers, repairers and technicians. We hope that this guide will help our members to find the resources they need to help them improve their business.”