Finding ways to tackle the shortage of service technicians in the auto care sector.
The numbers are grim. Across Canada, automotive service technician vacancies stand at around 11,000. A recent report released in Ontario highlighted that the short-term impact of each technician vacancy represents around $500,000 in lost revenue on an annual basis. When you multiply that number by the number of vacancies, the result is billions of dollars in lost taxable income from our economy.
Change of perception
So, what can be done to solve this very significant problem? For one, perception needs to change. For years, decades even, there has been a stigma around automotive service repair, resulting in many young people not even considering it as a career option. It has often been seen as a field with a lower emphasis on higher-level skills, though in reality, that is far from the truth. Today’s vehicles require highly advanced skills to properly diagnose and repair, plus the demand for technicians means there are more opportunities for establishing and developing a great career in the industry than ever before.
This negative perception of the industry can be addressed through education and awareness campaigns that highlight the benefits of becoming a licensed automotive technician. Today, there is more than ample evidence to show how real those benefits are, we just need to continue spreading the word, raising the profile, and building awareness at both the grassroots and national level.
A second issue is the perception that the auto care sector lacks governance compared to other skilled trades. Therefore, in lockstep with education awareness about career opportunities, establishing more regulatory requirements can go a long way in helping address some of the longstanding industry stigmas.
Funding for training
Governments can also play a key role by providing funding for industry-led initiatives to help break those stigmas. At AIA Canada, we have been working with Conestoga College, Fanshawe College and St. Lawrence College, as well as Plug ‘n Drive, to create free training programs to develop new skills and expertise in the auto care industry. The Government of Ontario has provided funding for these initiatives which include a career exploration training program, that provides hands-on exploratory experience for job seekers, with eligibility for support and equipment such as work boots, basic tools, safety equipment and reference books as well as transportation assistance.
There is also the electric vehicle upskilling training program that allows current licensed automotive technicians and senior-level apprentices to develop advanced diagnostic and repair skills that are specifically related to EVs. The results so far have been very encouraging, and the Government of Ontario has announced a new, fourth round of funding that will hopefully enable this program to continue growing and expanding.
We’ve also got new labour market research that’s anticipated to be released later this fall which will help peel back the layers and provide a deeper understanding of what’s currently going on regarding the technician shortage, including analysis of market conditions, underlying causes that are contributing to the problem, and, perhaps most importantly, key recommendations on how to address the problem.
Cultivating the next generation of homegrown technicians is very much a long-term strategy to address current labour shortages. In the short term, we’re seeing more emphasis being put on immigration to help fill those vacancies. Some of the biggest obstacles we currently face are administrative and accessibility challenges related to Canada’s existing immigration system. There needs to be more efficient ways to bring in qualified workers from overseas. While some steps are being taken, it is still not enough.
As such, we continue to put forward recommendations to the federal government to introduce reforms, including measures such as a Trusted Employer program, to help streamline the process and get those vacancies filled.
We are starting to see some progress—including a number of pilot projects—but ultimately, reaching a viable, long-term solution to the labour shortage will require a more active role from industry, working in conjunction with government at both the federal and provincial levels, to promote skilled trades professions. Parents and caregivers can also play a significant role in helping address this issue. By educating our children from a younger age, we can promote the life-long skills and the rewarding trajectory that can be built, resulting in a long-lasting, prosperous and fulfilling career.