IF THE TECH SHORTAGE is ever going to be resolved, then the industry, Dealers and service shops are going to need to get involved. They will have to change the public’s mindset about technical careers, create more opportunities for training, and provide scholarships and career guidance, according to Jennifer Maher, CEO and executive director of TechForce Foundation.
The latter two are actually the easiest, if you can imagine, because they can be addressed by money and effort: specifically, creating more technical training programs across the country and providing the funding for student grants and scholarships. While limited nationwide resources exist for motorcycle tech training, some Dealers are now sponsoring programs at their local community colleges. Still many more community-based programs like this are needed.
The biggest hurdle? Change society’s mindset when it comes to technical careers; more specifically, recognize that vocational training is a valid – and increasingly valuable – career path that should begin much earlier, even in middle school, as an alternative to college prep programs.
Today’s teens and twentysomethings are willing to pursue technical career paths, Maher told Dealernews. The challenge is to convince the “influencers” - parents who believe these jobs to be low-paying “grease monkey” positions and teachers who remain focused on college prep curricula.
“The root of the disease is that an education system has stripped away technical and vocational education resources, and a societal college-for-all mentality that leaves too many students tracking for careers that don’t fit them,” Maher stated in a capabilities release produced by the Foundation.
The U.S. education system "has stripped away technical and vocational education resources" and has "a societal college-for-all mentality that leaves too many students tracking for careers that don't fit them," Maher says.
Heartbreaking, she said, is the student who struggles through college prep courses in middle and high school but has natural tactile intelligence for a successful career in a vocational field. “There is not one way to learn – and hands-on learners struggle through our education system. They’re not supported,” Maher said. “Yet there are real jobs – nothing that parents should be turning their noses up at.”
It’s also up to the industry and the Dealers to proclaim the benefits of a service tech position; indeed, some qualified Harley-Davidson techs in the Sunbelt can demand $75,000 a year plus benefits. “Parents don’t know about the trade and the opportunities – we’ve done a poor job of communicating it,” Maher said.
TechForce Foundation started 12 years ago as the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) Foundation to provide scholarships and grants to prospective students. Today it is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit providing financial aid to students at any technical school.
The Foundation’s new FutureTech Success program, announced in late October, is designed to give students, parents and influencers the tools and experiences to foster tactile intelligence; help reposition the image of today’s vehicle service technician; and help industries like motorcycling speak with a collective voice on workforce development needs.
“Not that the [grease monkey] image was ever deserved, but today it is simply absurd,” Maher stated. “The complexity of today’s vehicles rival some of the most sophisticated aircraft, and the technical and computer knowledge as well as the tactile and STEM skills required to work on them, is truly amazing.”
The FutureTech Success program has a number of sponsors from the automotive sector, but no one from the motorcycle industry has stepped up yet, Maher told Dealernews.
From TechForce Foundation:
The connection with the people TechForce assists has to be real. “That’s done at the grassroots level. Community by community, school by school, we have to work with national and local partners to provide kids with hands-on experiences.
Maher says the industry can’t ignore that the general public has a negative view of a technical career. “If we’re going to change that, we have to connect with the kids and their key influencers – their parents, teachers, counselors and youth program directors. We can connect with the kids by offering hands-on experiences. And we can connect with their influencers when they witness the satisfaction that the kids experience.
The technical career should be a coveted one, Maher says. It requires highly skilled individuals to work on some of the most sophisticated machines on earth. These individuals have to have tactile intelligence, meaning they are good with their hands but have solid math, science and computer skills. Considering what’s needed to excel as a technician, the competition should be fierce to land a technician job.
The industry has to recognize the role it has played in why the industry is viewed negatively. “Where is the united front to present a persistent, consistent image? There are pockets scattered throughout the [automotive] industry, but in order to flip a generally negative view into a positive one, there has to be a collective effort to verbalize the industry’s attributes and a willingness to share resources, including recruiting materials and best recruiting practices.
“It’s not enough to talk among ourselves,” Maher said, “we have to pull together as an industry to first resolve it, and then to stay ahead of it so we never wind up in this position again.”
So, how should the powersports industry step up? TechForce Foundation says OEMs, educational facilities, aftermarket and retailers must be ready to:
- Set up mentoring programs, internships/apprenticeships and part-time positions.
- Establish scholarships and grants for students to attend training. For Dealers wary of sending potential students across the country for training, Maher suggests inserting a requirement into the scholarship so graduates must complete their first year of professional service in their home market.
- Establish “strong start” scholarships to help students move back to their home markets after graduation to begin employment.
A growing number of industry associations and major manufacturers are supporting the effort – but, they’re primarily in the automotive sector. Maher told Dealernews in early November that the FutureTech Success program does not have a single sponsor within the motorcycle/powersports industry. If you’d like to know more or find out how to become part of this solution, contact the Foundation at www.techforcefoundation.org
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