Shifting the View of the Technician
Sept. 10, 2020—It’s a common misconception every technician has heard from time-to-time: You turn wrenches.
Or, technicians are referred to as “tinkers” or simple body-men.
Just like a car from 2000 has fewer computer systems and parts than a car from 2020 has, the role of the technician has also evolved over the years. So much so, that groups in the automotive aftermarket like the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) have formed subcommittees to work exclusively on addressing issues like how the search for new talent in the industry is shifting.
In 2018, the CIC hosted an April meeting where it was discussed to change the collision repair technician definition with one that encompassed a mechanical role. The group called for a new definition that would include the technician’s skillset with computer functions, advanced diagnostic equipment and advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS).
World-class technicians like Jonathan Dickerman began to incorporate more module programming into the role over eight years ago. In 2018, Dickerman said in a Ratchet+Wrench article that his favorite part about working in the industry is the rapid advances he sees in technology.
That was two years ago. Fast forward to 2020 and more buzzwords are surfacing, including “researchers,” and “cross-functionality.”
Bud Center, I-CAR subject matter expert and lead associate,recently said that technicians will need to be more of a learner type and thrive on going into service manuals and researching repair information.
ADAPT dived into where the automotive repair industry is at today in terms of hiring technicians and what skills technicians need to be successful in the future of repairing cars with levels of automation from level 0 to level 5.
Job Opportunities for a Technician
Based on data from The U.S. Department of Labor, there are an estimated 75,900 job openings for automotive service technicians and mechanics and 17,200 job openings for automotive body and related repairs between 2016 and 2026.
A recent survey conducted by the Collision Industry Conference’s Talent Pool Committee found that the majority of students these days don’t plan to attend a 4-year college. The survey pooled 275 high school, college and technical school students between the ages of 15-45 who attended a CREF career fair during the 2018–19 school year.
High school students who responded to that survey largely illustrated a trend that goes against the belief that students are predominantly opting for four-year colleges instead of technical or community colleges.
The survey found that the top reason for choosing their current school program was a love of working on cars, followed by "opportunities for career advancement after employment.” However, "the number of job openings" and both entry-level and top technician pay were toward the bottom of the list.
For Steve Reinarts, dean of automotive programs at Dunwoody College of Technology, there is a large need for students to join automotive technician programs. The need is in large part because Reinarts says he has about 10 jobs he could provide for every one student in his class.
“We need more people interested in auto repair and service,” Reinarts says. “If I have 10 jobs for every student, that tells me we don’t have enough students.”
He says that for the past 16 years, he’s been teaching at Dunwoody College, the interest in enrollment has remained the same and hasn’t increased.
Shifting Role of the Technician
“There is more electronics now but the skill-set has always remained the same,” Reinarts says. “They’re problem solvers.”
Reinarts says a technician is going to repair a car no matter what circumstances get thrown at the person and that skill-set is still needed today in the next generation of technicians.
With more electronics in the car, it’s not like an engine, he says. The technician can’t simply disassemble the electronics like they could with an engine. Now, it’s about repairing software.
Repairing software raises the question of whether the technician did it right or wrong. There’s no physical proof that it was successful anymore. Rather, a technician needs to trust in the repair and test the car.
“When it gets into software, diagnosing a problem that is software-related is not that difficult but you don’t know what you fixed and that’s the hard part,” Reinarts says.
Q: What skill-sets are changing for these technicians?
A: I don’t think skill sets are changing other than following directions, and knowing and understanding how things work. There are times when you have to logically look at something and determine if the description is saying what you actually need to do.
Technicians do need to understand the software side of the repair.
Reinarts predicts that technicians will need to be able to successfully access the right repair and service information to complete software repairs. Technicians need to know how to access the correct information and not just rely on Googling or YouTubing an answer. Anyone can post information on YouTube or Google.
“Accessing and knowing where to find reliable service information is more important now than it has been,” he says. “The one thing with teaching students is that they still have the belief that if they see it on Google, it has to be the truth.”
Reinarts optimistically views repairing the vehicle. A lot of repair issues stem from wiring problems, which shouldn’t take long to diagnose and could simply be diagnosed by process of elimination and unplugging one computer or another to see if the problem goes away.
Q: Do you see students with aptitudes for engineering performing better in your classes?
A: Engineering is not as hands-on as automotive and collision technicians are. They’re more of coming up with new ideas of what a car should look like or how it should behave. As automotive technicians, we’re trying to put [arts back to the way they need to be. We’re trying to analyze the symptom and determine related symptoms, and then ultimately determine the cause and correction.
It’s ultimately like two different skill-sets.
Technicians can use factory service information to primarily find how to repair software issues on vehicles, Reinarts says.
Repair information from the OEM is updated and accurate as of last night or yesterday, he says.
“You have to purchase service information no matter if you’re a dealership or and independent shop,” he says. “Or AllDATA and Identifix are the two biggest players in our neck of the woods and what we advise students to use.”
Q: What happens to jobs if the industry goes to full electrical vehicles?
A: Nothing. It’s just wires. You’re still going to have wheels, brakes, a drive line and electrical systems on there.
Q: What happens if the industry goes to full autonomous cars?
A: My answer is the same. Instead of the customer driving the car into the shop, the vehicle will drive itself into the shop.
Editor's note: This story first appeared in March 2020.