Anyone who has taken their car in for any kind of routine service lately might have noticed those West Valley repair or lube shops didn’t seem to have many people on hand.
In some cases, they are overflowing with workers.
Such is the case with many shops around the region. Some automotive service trades have had trouble filling positions at Valley locations in 2021 and 2022, while others have had less difficulty.
A wait for a simple oil change at one national chain’s West Valley location included the up-front announcement that all service would take at least two hours to complete.
The pattern, in some industries, of being able to retain labor could be rooted in the size of companies. In the West Valley, the chains with either stated or sign-posted staffing shortages tend to be part of the largest corporations.
None of those automotive service companies responded to inquiries or questions for this story.
The local shops, however, seem to be hanging on.
John Jamison is the vice president of the company that runs Greulich’s Automotive Repair.
With about 20 locations around the Valley, Jamison says, Greulich’s is likely the oldest family-owned Valley auto repair business with more than three locations.
“We pay very well,” Jamison says. “We’re able to put so many funds into payroll because we make those decisions locally. We don’t have to answer to a large conglomerate, which could be in another state or country.”
According to statistics released this week by the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity, there were 95,400 people employed in the “other services” category in the state at the end of May.
That’s up 500 people from April and up almost 5,000 employees from May 2021.
Still, having a delay at any business recently has become a regular occurrence for any company in the service industry.
Jamison thinks pay has a lot to do with those shortages at some firms. So does training and experience.
“We just started a new program, which is in its infancy, with Gateway College,” Jamison said. “We’ve sponsored one student’s costs through one of their automotive programs, and that student will come to work for us. We’ve invested in this student. We’re excited to see how this turns out.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says there will not be substantial changes to the needs for automotive workers in the next 8 to 10 years.
That’s not good in terms of growth of the field, but it is good in terms of how much technology aids in repairs and in terms of computers and robots not necessarily replacing workers.
The BLS says despite limited employment growth, about 69,000 openings for automotive service technicians and mechanics are projected each year, on average, throughout the rest of the 2020s.
Another key, Jamison said, is that service companies in automotive and other industries must stay up to date on all technology — diagnostic, vehicular and otherwise — that keep all staff on the cutting edge of industry knowledge.
“Not only does everyone who comes to work for us get ASE certified, but you have to keep that training going,” Jamison said. “If you don’t keep bringing in new knowledge, and stay sophisticated and current, you can’t keep up.”
Jamison said another key is for companies to ensure all staff who touch customer hardware are diverse and can do many things well, rather than simply having a great deal of special training in one skill or type of technology.
“You’ve got to be able to work on lots of different types of cars, and work on multiple kinds of systems,” he said.
Jamison said Greulich’s and other companies and trade schools make their best effort to get the work out about how much money can be made in the industry. However, he said, it’s always hard to tell how far that news travels to all young people in the Valley considering their career options.
He said a well-trained, experienced automotive technician can make more than $100,000 annually, in the right situation.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says automotive service technicians and mechanics made a median annual salary of $46,680 as of May 2021, with an average wage nationally of $22.54 per hour.
Workers choosing to find work in given fields in Arizona seem to mostly be able to find it. Overall unemployment in Maricopa County went up by only 0.2% in May to 2.9%. It was 4.9% a year ago.
Jamison said automotive is hard work. Trainers, supervisors and other staff and colleagues try to impress this upon young workers and those considering getting certified in the field.
“Some of the people in the youngest generations in the workforce today, they just don’t have the work ethic their predecessors had,” Jamison said. “It’s tough to teach that kind of ethic into someone.”
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