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Stereotypes keep many from entering field, creating annual shortage of 35,000 technicians

By Earle Eldridge / USA TODAY

Despite concerns about work being sent overseas and a jobless economic recovery, car dealerships can’t find enough mechanics to fill their service bays.

Dealers face an annual shortage of 35,000 technicians through 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A recent survey found that each dealer will need to hire an average of two mechanics within the next six months, up one from a year earlier.

A stereotypical image of the job as dirty and low paying keeps some young people from considering the career, even though mechanics earn good pay and have great job security, and most dealerships these days are clean and comfortable. Adding to the shortage: Many older mechanics are retiring instead of taking the continued training needed to work on today’s tech-laden cars.

“At a time when all of us are hearing a lot about a jobless recovery ... auto dealers are hanging out a big ’help wanted’ sign,” says James Willingham, a car dealer and chairman of Automotive Retailing Today, a manufacturer/dealer venture aimed at recruiting and training mechanics. “It’s an employee’s market in my industry.”

To attack the problem, car dealers, automakers, the Labor Department and the U.S. military will announce today an effort to persuade former soldiers to consider careers as auto mechanics. The program will link local car dealers with veterans and military aide offices to post job openings, training offers and information on using military education benefits.

ART also has set up a Web site, www.autojobstoday.org, with information on job requirements, salary and benefits, training, statistics and links to job openings.

Basic training to become an auto technician takes at least 54 weeks and costs about $18,000, says Tina Miller-Steinke, a spokeswoman for Universal Technical Institute, which trains auto, marine and motorcycle technicians. She says 60 percent of students get tuition loans or grants.

The national average salary for an auto technician in 2002 was $41,588, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. The highest-paid technicians earned $120,000 in 2002, ART says.

Students must pass the Automotive Service Excellence exam to become a certified technician. Veterans often can transfer military experience into credit toward eligibility to take the exam.
 
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