Seattle — When Mike Zebry got a job delivering tools to a Seattle car store this year, he quickly needed most of his customers with tools as much as those who knew how to use them. I found out that there isn’t.
Almost every shop on Zebley’s route was so difficult for a seasoned mechanic that many promised up to $ 1,000 to anyone who could hire Zebley. However, despite the incentives, Zebury was unable to provide a single mechanic. “Everyone I go to needs skill,” he says. “They are pretty desperate.”
If you stop by a garage, car dealership, or body shop in the Seattle area, you’ll hear a similar view on the less noticeable and more prominent workforce issues in the area.
Demand for repairs and maintenance is recovering from the pandemic. However, many garages have very few staff and have had to delay work or send customers elsewhere. We may also offer large contracts and 6-digit salaries to experienced candidates.
“I’m going to hire two guys today,” says Charles Jung, manager of Fix Auto Collision in Seattle. Due to a shortage of staff here, about $ 40,000 of business is abandoned each month.
In the recently opened Jacobroltz garage at Leni Air Avenue South, he currently has enough business to add mechanics, but nothing can be found. “Everyone in the industry who does the work I know is paid like top, top, top dollars,” he says.
Due to the serious shortage, some shops are trying to steal the talent of their rivals. “Someone wants to drive down the street and talk to one of the technicians,” said Tim Eaton, a former chairman of a regional affiliate of the Automobile Services Association and owner of Burien’s Hi-Line Auto Electric. Warns. Despite offering salaries up to $ 100,000, it is below three positions.
Seattle isn’t the only place where mechanics, crash specialists, and other car engineers are in short supply. The problem is national, but the problem is especially serious. As of July, the Seattle Department of Employment Safety estimates that as of July, Seattle area job listings for a wider range of vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics, including truck and aircraft mechanics, were unemployed. It was almost twice the supply of mechanics. This is the state’s biggest shortage, and ironically a twist given the Seattle region’s reputation for a highly skilled workforce.
What is causing the shortage? Some garage owners have added 300 weeks to regular state unemployment allowances in response to delays in the recovery of the employment market from COVID-19-related layoffs, reflecting dissatisfaction in other industries. Condemning the dollar’s federal pandemic layoffs.
According to industry experts, these enhanced benefits, which expired on September 4, may have contributed to the shortage, especially for entry-level workers, but automotive experts say COVID-19. It was missing long ago.
More importantly, the bigger factors driving the shortage, especially Seattle’s infamous housing market, cannot be solved by just robbing profits.
“This is just the culmination of what has been happening in our industry over the years,” says Eaton.
One of the long-standing problems: Seattle and across the country have fewer people wanting to work in a car.
Even before COVID-19, many community colleges and vocational schools were late in enrolling in the automotive engineer program. Many high schools no longer offer car shop classes, and it seems that fewer students are interested in car repairs.
According to experts, car repair often conflicts with our evolving attitude about what is considered a “good” job, especially in a labor market dominated by high-paying “knowledge” workers such as Seattle. I have.
Physically, car repairs are “a burden to the body,” says Jerry Barkley, owner of Crown Hill Automotive in Seattle.
But more and more, it is also a job that requires a high degree of technical know-how and problem-solving skills, especially as automobiles become more computerized. Recently, mechanics are “people who can analyze data and process that information,” says Amber Avery, a former mechanic who currently teaches at Shoreline Community College’s automotive program. These demands, which help explain why the industry prefers “automakers” to “mechanics,” will only grow as electric drives replace internal combustion engines.
According to industry insiders, the problem is that today’s automotive tech-savvy students choose a high-level, high-paying engineering or programming job over auto repair.
“There is still the stigma of being the only people returning to gas stations to change oil in the 1950s. In fact, that’s some of the smartest people I know,” said Carter Volkswagen & Subaru, Service Director. Says Paul Svenkerud. There is a shortage of at least 20 technicians in four locations in the Seattle area.
However, despite the ever-increasing technical trends in this profession and the potential for higher salaries, Svenkerud said, “Many parents send their children to a car vocational school. I don’t think we encourage you to go on to school. “
It’s not just an urban problem. Between 2016 and 2019, Moses Lake’s Big Bend Community College car program enrollment dropped from 52 to 39, according to school officials.
The state of work of a person is not the only barrier. Experienced car technicians or collision specialists can certainly earn over $ 100,000 a year. However, many entry-level technicians approach the minimum wage. That’s just $ 40,000 a year in Seattle.
The challenge is that in many shops, entry-level technicians are expected to probably invest $ 5,000 to $ 10,000 in their own tools and willing to invest thousands more as they progress. increase.
By the time car technicians reach the top level, “these people are rolling with essentially 100 spectacular, plus or minus their own tools and equipment,” says Eaton of Hi-Line. increase.
This is one of the reasons why many technicians switch to lower entry costs and faster payoff transactions. “If you spend $ 5,000 during construction, [on tools] You can make $ 35 an hour, “says Erick Hernandez, a Burien T-Auto Repair mechanic. Hernandez not only loves working in the car, but admits that “this job is expensive”.
Fight for talent
Some industry insiders and educators believe that new recruitment initiatives will ultimately make the profession more attractive and attract more students. Only a few female technicians — in 2020, Shoreline Community College had only three female students out of more than 100 students — Avery is the starting point.
However, these initiatives will take years, and the mechanical shortage is expected to worsen in the near future as occupations with a disproportionate proportion of older workers begin to see more retirees.
This means more delay for the customer. Svenkerud believes that the shortage has reduced Subaru’s repairs by 20%, forcing customers to wait a couple of weeks.
It is also certain to spur fierce competition for talent. That probably means offering higher wages and other temptations (and higher prices for customers). It also means a more energetic attempt to trick staff from other stores.
Andrew Beals, a technician at JE Wheels Tires & Automotive on 15th Street northwest of Ballard, says he has been repeatedly approached by other garages with attractive offers. Last week, a 22-year-old woman embraced $ 3 a new job per hour, health benefits, potential performance bonuses, and ease of commuting. “It was too good to let go,” says Beals. He believes the tools alone have already invested more than $ 40,000.
The tight labor market has benefited technicians, who are now even more bargaining. As Svenkerud bitterly says, when a qualified candidate actually responds to your job listing, “they are usually already hired … and what you do is when they go to the notification. , They are to renegotiate their wage rate in their current job. Get a big salary increase to stay. “
However, for many small garage owners who cannot offer the same wages as large garage owners, competing for talent is not always an option and they may reduce their work.
But others don’t feel they can turn down customers. “Honestly, it’s like throwing money away,” says Lorz, whose workforce shortage solution is familiar to most small business owners.
“Basically, if you can’t find someone, you can do it yourself,” he shrugs. “It’s just a long time, you know.”
Jakob Lorz is the owner of Lorz Automotive in Seattle’s Rainier Valley and is an auto repair shop that opened earlier this March. Due to the lack of skilled auto mechanics, he works alone for 12 hours, more than 6 days a week, to meet demand.
Amber Avery is an instructor of Shoreline Community College’s automotive program. Standing under the late model Chevrolet donated to the program, she tells us about Seattle’s next labor crisis: people repairing your car.