Training Tomorrow's Auto Technicians
By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 2004; 11:37 AM
White collars depend on a lot of blue collars to stay that way.
That was made clear to me on a recent visit to the Homer S. Gudelsky Institute for Technical Education at Montgomery College in Rockville.
The institute, founded in 1994, is dedicated to the development of skilled workers in the automotive service, building and printing trades. People go there to learn how to work with their hands and minds.
It's definitely a blue-collar kind of a place; and the teachers and students there are darned proud of it.
But it might be a bit difficult for aspiring students to get into any of the school's courses, especially the classes for automotive services. It's a supply and demand thing. Current classes are jammed. Space is limited. It will be difficult for the institute to expand its programs and serve more students without expanding its facilities. Enrollment is ballooning. It's up 55 percent, from 4,846 students a decade ago to 7,519 students today.
That's probably good news for consumers. Automotive dealerships and repair businesses have long complained about a lack of qualified technicians to repair cars and trucks. Lately, that complaint has grown louder because of the increasingly complex nature of many of today's vehicles.
Cars and trucks have morphed into motorized computers. Shade-tree mechanics bereft of requisite mathematical and computer skills are out of their league in modern garages. The upshot, according to experts, is the need for thousands of new auto technicians.
The exact number is debatable, according to a recent study conducted by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, which represents many of the nation's car repair businesses. Depending on the exact kinds of technicians needed, the personnel shortage might be as high as 60,000 people, or maybe below 35,000, the association says. Automotive Retailing Today (ART), a coalition of major automobile manufacturers and dealers, says it sees a need for 35,000 new auto technicians in the United States between now and 2010.
In less-skilled jobs, such as routine oil changes, the shortage might be more perceived than real. But for higher-skilled tasks, such as engine and brake repair, the shortage could be critical.
Although it is possible for a master technician to earn as much as $100,000, that kind of pay is by no means the norm in the auto repair business, the automotive aftermarket association says. In fact, when the wages of the lowest and highest-skilled technicians and shop workers are computed, the average median weekly earnings for auto repair workers is 7.5 percent below the national average, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association says.
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