Since we’re so dependent on cars up here, it seems counter-intuitive that there suddenly wouldn’t be enough workers to service them. But one of my local garages has been chronically short handed for months, while another has just hired and they’re training the new help from the ground up.
John Greene – no relation - owns Greene’s Servicenter, a garage that’s been in the family for 76 years. He says the shortage was at least ten years in the making, but he has a good staff now and counts himself lucky that it’s only taken a few years to adjust - both training help and finding mechanics with extensive tech-ed under their belts.
Part of the problem, he says, is that cars have gotten more complicated in the last ten years. The standard car now has at least a dozen computer modules, and he recently worked on a car that had 23. There are computers controlling the seat positions, mirror, even automatic braking. And it’s only going to get more complicated.
When I ventured that perhaps there aren’t enough high school courses available, Greene said that high school courses were never enough, even when he took them 45 years ago. It wasn’t until going on to technical college for two years that he had the technical expertise to handle what came into the garage.
Frank Cioffi is president of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, a non- profit specializing in economic and workforce development statewide. And he notes that the mechanic shortage is only one of many skilled laborer shortages, both nationwide and local.One solution he sees is extending high school technical, vocational and career training classes from their current 11th and 12th grades to all four grades of high school.
There’s also existing funding in workforce training that could be used for adult education, for mechanics already on the job. Cioffi adds that Vermont Technical College could also expand its auto mechanic certification training and degree programs for college age students and adults, leading to much faster outcomes. He thinks this could produce a skilled workforce within just a 2 to 4 year period.
Servicenter owner Greene says, “You get a good foundation in problem solving and you can make good money as a skilled mechanic.”