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Why automotive techs are in such high demand

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Why automotive techs are in such high demand
(Photo: Photo: Courtesy Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology)

By all accounts, job openings in the automotive industry are plentiful. The only problem? Finding enough good people to fill them, according to David Protano, chair, Automotive Technology and instructor at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. “It’s not just technicians who are needed,” Protano says. “It’s automotive salespeople, parts specialists, service managers—all areas are in need of new hires.”

By the numbers

100,000 Automotive jobs in Massachusetts

2,366 Car dealerships in Massachusetts

8,400 After-market repair facilities in Massachusetts

$43,000 The average auto technician’s salary in Massachusetts

2 Years to earn your Associate Degree

20 percent of BFIT students plan to open their own businesses

30 percent growth expected for automotive repair and maintenance industry by 2020

Sources: The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence

Dozens of employers across the automotive industry call Protano regularly, looking to hire automotive technicians from BFIT. “I get calls virtually every day from employers looking to hire good automotive technicians,” he says.

Why? It’s a matter of supply and demand. Many automotive workers are retiring, and not enough young people are entering this field to replenish the workforce. Others are leaving the field, partly because innovations in technology are driving major industry shifts.

“To be successful as a technician or in sales, you have to be familiar with the new technical dynamics in play,” he says. For example, since new devices are smarter, more efficient and more varied, they’re also more complex. Technicians need to use scanning devices to diagnose and repair a vehicle, and know how to read its data. Even a simple skill, like synching an iPhone to a car, is in demand. And it’s a must for salespeople to be Internet-savvy to drive sales.

To keep up with industry trends, such as innovations in fuel alternatives, BFIT has expanded its course offerings to focus more on hybrid and electric cars. There’s also more focus on diesel technology, since more manufacturers are using it in passenger cars.

BFIT students are prepared to hit their first job running, having trained on all makes and models in a live garage. The shop is not a simulation; it’s run like any other full-service garage and is open to any and all customers—the only one like it in Massachusetts. “You read what do step by step, but when you do it hands-on, you understand how things work, how things fit together,” says graduate Juan Franco. The garage not only provides an invaluable real-world automotive repair environment, it also gives students a chance to practice their communication and customer service skills.

Because of the industry’s expansion, Protano feels that the broad BFIT curriculum gives students a leg up by teaching them knowledge and skills they can leverage in any position. And unlike other programs, BFIT isn’t manufacturer-specific. “Our students get a well-rounded foundation and experience on all makes, models and manufacturers,” Protano says. “It’s important because when they leave, they aren’t limited to one manufacturer.”

Big-picture thinking also applies to the program’s overall goals. “We want our students to graduate and be able to go right into an independent shop or dealership, move up the ranks and become a manager,” says Protano. “The bachelor’s degree takes students a step further and gives them management training so they can eventually open their own shop. The sky’s the limit if they work hard and like to take on new challenges.”

It’s an attitude that Protano learned in the industry from a young age: He was pumping gas at his family’s business at age 12. He still relishes the challenge each day—and each vehicle—presents. “Nothing feels better than having a car come in that doesn’t run and, after spending time puzzling out the problem, you’re able to get the car running,” he says.