By Sheryll Poe, NADA Contributor

America’s auto dealerships have a looming workforce shortage in the service department. Just to keep pace with retirements and new jobs in the sector, the industry needs to replace approximately 76,000 technicians each year. Yet, America’s technical colleges and training programs graduate about 37,000 new technicians each year —leaving an annual shortage of approximately 39,000 trained technicians.

But a recent survey released by Cox Automotive suggests that there is hope for a new generation of technicians: Generation Z.

Cox’s “2019 Dealership Staffing Study” found that 32% of Generation Z workers – those born between the mid-1990s to early 2000s — said they were very interested in working at a dealership. In addition, 36% of younger millennials indicated they were intrigued by dealership jobs as well. The interest among these two emerging labor groups is nearly 10 percentage points higher than interest shown by older millennials in their late 30s (21%) and Gen Xers in their 40s and 50s (19%).

“With approximately 61 million members of Gen Z starting to enter the U.S. workforce, dealerships have a chance to build a culture that attracts and retains this younger, tech-savvy talent,” the study noted.

So what do Generation Z workers value and what can managers do to attract and retain these new workers?

1) They’re comfortable with the latest technology

Sure, Generation Z is definitely tech savvy. Consider that the iPhone was introduced in 2007. Generation Z has never lived in a world without technology right at their fingertips.

Which means a Gen Z worker will feel right at home in today’s technologically advanced showrooms and service bays. From computerized inventory management systems to sales completed on an iPad, today’s dealerships serve an entirely different purpose for an entirely different customer. The emphasis is on technology, service, and a customer-centric approach that drives customer loyalty.

2) But technology can’t replace one-on-one interactions

While they might be the generation most comfortable with technology, Generation Z places a high value on face-to-face interactions and they want daily interactions with their bosses. One survey found that more than 90% of Gen Z “prefer to have a human element to their teams, either working solely with innovative co-workers or with co-workers and new technologies paired together.”

That human element was a big draw for Gen Z service tech Lance La Croix who started in the auto industry three years ago. “I am fortunate enough to work with very understanding and helpful techs who are willing to answer questions, point me in the right direction, and check my work,” La Croix said. “This allows me to increase my knowledge and advance in my career.”

The opportunity to interact with the boss was just one reason 25-year-old Jonathan Biggom, a service tech at Motorcars Toyota in Cleveland, Ohio loves his job. “We see our owner every day,” Biggom said. “That means a lot for us. Just working for the company itself, that’s what definitely keeps me around.”

3) They value security (and salary)

Remember the Great Recession? Generation Z sure does. They grew up in the middle of it and watched as the generations above them first struggled to find jobs right out of college and then took low-paying jobs while saddled with a lifetime of student loans.

“Gen Z is deeply driven by security. More pragmatic than millennials, Gen Z express concerns about money and benefits,” according to a Monster survey, which found that 70% consider salary their top motivator. An equal percent said their top “must-have” is health insurance.

They’re also willing to put in the time: 58% said they’d be willing to work nights and weekends for higher pay.

“I had heard from a few different people that there is plenty of money to be made as a technician, as long as I had a good work ethic,” said La Croix. “I did go to college for one year, made it on the Dean’s List, worked full time, and did not accrue any debt. Even so, college did not seem like the place for me. I am grateful to my hometown dealership for giving me the opportunity to prove myself and for giving me hands-on training as well as providing ASE assistance (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence).”

4) They’re open to alternative types of education and training

Whether it’s because they don’t want to be saddled with debt or because they want to be in control of their own career paths, Generation Z doesn’t think a traditional college environment is the only way to get ahead, with many opting for alternative learning environments and on-the-job training. According to new research from LinkedIn Learning, 43% of Generation Z learners prefer a fully self-directed and independent approach to learning.

While La Croix originally went to college, he knew it wasn’t for him. “I had always thought about being a tech but I did not think it was a reasonable idea. I didn’t think it would pay very well and I knew tools and school would be pricey,” said La Croix. “My plans were changed for the better, however, when my dealership announced that they were looking for new service technicians. My ears perked up when I heard them say, ‘No experience necessary. Will train.’ I quickly jumped at this opportunity and began working in the shop.”

The automotive industry offers many education and dealer training programs with guaranteed job placements, said Dave Kocsis with Jack Carroll’s Skagit Hyundai. “At my auto shop, a representative for the GM ASEP/Shoreline Community College came to one of our shop nights along with a tech from a local GM dealer and I was told about the GM ASEP (Automotive Service Educational Program) and what I could be/do with my career, so I decided to pursue this career path and 14-plus years later, here I am.”

5) They take ownership of their own career 

According to the Monster survey, 76% describe themselves as responsible for driving their own careers. “Generation Z employees will look for more independence in their career than Gen X and millennials,” said Tiffany Servatius, a member of Forbes Human Resource Council. “These individuals will be seeking opportunities that allow them to take ownership of their positions and be their own boss.”

La Croix, who has a financial coaching business in addition to his job as a service tech at Walser Honda, says his job “is what you make it. You will get out what you put in…I regularly eat a very quick lunch at my bench instead of taking a half-hour lunch break. I frequently stay late to finish a project or start another. However, that is my choice. I have decided to push myself so that I can advance faster than most. The reward is a bigger check right now and more advancement opportunities in the future.”

Posted by NADA

National Automobile Dealers Association