Academy students gain experience, try to fix automotive technology shortage | News, sports, jobs


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Lake Collision Repair Center Manager Nikki Wieger (left) speaks to students in the collision repair program at Mifflin County Academy of Science and Technology during a recent tour. Pictured is Academy Administration Director Barry King (right).

LEWISTON – While school field trips are meant to be educational, a group of 20 students from the Mifflin County Academy of Science and Technology discovered they had the opportunity to solve a real-world problem.

Thanks to Lake Dealers in Lewistown, students in the academy’s collision repair program had the opportunity to tour the Lake Collision Repair Center on Tuesday, April 25.

There is currently a severe shortage of automotive technicians around the country. It’s a confusing problem when you have to factor in the dramatic increase in the number of individuals working from home and the need for auto, diesel, and collision repair.

Experts and industry leaders have been predicting this shortage since at least 2012. Estimates call for at least 76,000 technicians between 2020 and 2026 to keep pace with demand.

The 2020 report estimates that the industry will be short approximately 642,000 technicians by 2024. That’s why the field trip was such an important outing.

“Students had demonstrations on plastic welding, painting, painting techniques and estimation. Mifflin County Academy of Science and Technology Executive Director Barry King, who joined the students on the tour, said.

The students were hosted by administrator Nicky Wieger and estimator Greg McGinnis from the Lake Collision Repair Center. Lake also donated a 2015 Ford Focus to the students as part of their instruction for panel repair.

The academy has developed partnerships with local businesses, such as Lake Dealers, to help students develop relationships that eventually lead to full-time employment.

This experience was invaluable, especially in an economy with a severe shortage of auto technicians. Local businesses are looking for technicians to join the workforce.

The reasons for the labor shortage seem simple:

• The aging baby-boomer technician workforce is retiring at a higher rate each year, some estimates of nearly nine percent per year.

• Relatively high turnover, 31 percent in older generations.

• Fewer technicians graduate with a post-secondary automotive degree.

• The number of female technicians is extremely low, with only 1.5 percent of technicians in the United States being women.

The visit gave the academy students a valuable insight into the working conditions. The experience is difficult to replicate in a classroom environment.

“Vehicles are loaded with sensors, thousands of computer chips and controlled by software.” King said. “When cameras are activated and the development of driver assistance systems that keep cars in their lane or detect blind spots, collision repair technicians have to calibrate the sensors and reset the cameras.

“Electric and hybrid vehicles are becoming a significant part of the vehicles we see.” He added. “EV battery and electrical cables present many challenges in the future and technicians need to be trained. It is a very complex industry.”

Experts suggest the following strategies to fix the problem.

· Training in the industry. The academy’s program offers students the opportunity to become a maintenance technician, detailer, disassembly technician, estimator, painter, paint preparation technician, or one-piece frame technician.

• Repair companies around the country are trying to improve or create training and career path programs to encourage potential technicians to join.

• People who are unhappy in the workforce and need a career change should be directed to the field of conflict resolution.

Perhaps, the biggest obstacle is the stigma about the work. When trying to hire new talent, conflicted businesses act like dirty, greasy floors, experts say. Reality: Those days are over.

That’s what a group of academy students discovered.

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