When Mike Spangler opens the hood of his car, the interior mechanics seem alien.
In the 60s, Spangler was doing all the work on his car himself. Today he doesn’t even bother to change the oil.
“There are more on-board computers in your car than there were in the space shuttle,” said Spangler, dean of the School of Advanced and Applied Technologies at the College of Southern Nevada. “You don’t just need an elite technical skill set. You need very specialized tools.
As car technology continues to advance, it becomes increasingly difficult to find auto mechanics and technicians who know how to work on vehicles. According to data from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Las Vegas’ auto repair industry, like that nationwide, is facing a shortage of workers.
Mike Chun, owner of Panda Auto in Spring Valley, is looking to hire. But the Las Vegas Valley is going through a dry spell of qualified applicants.
About three months ago, Chun said, he got lucky and found a qualified employee almost immediately. This time around, finding candidates with the right skills is proving to be a challenge.
“We have received around 18” applications so far, he said. “I’m going to say that about 75% of them won’t have the set of criteria that we need. “
On average, 76,000 auto technicians will be needed each year between 2016 and 2026 to meet demand in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The shortage has already hit southern Nevada; There are about 4,300 employees in this field in Clark County, well below the national average of 5,100 for an area its size, according to a report released by GOED via Emsi, an Idaho-based company which uses data from official government sources.
“The demand is great. The number of students entering these programs may be declining, ”said Spangler. The shortage has been going on for decades, but “right now it is about as acute as I have ever seen it.”
The report, released in the fourth quarter of 2018, found approximately 800 jobs for auto mechanics and technicians in Clark County over the past year. Most postings were up about 40 days, more than the regional median.
Paul Nakama, owner of Paul’s Auto Service in downtown Las Vegas, said the advancement of technology in cars has contributed to his struggle to find qualified candidates in the Valley. Today’s workers need a much larger skill set than ever before.
“It’s very difficult because of all the computers they put in vehicles,” he said. “Before, it was more mechanical. Now it’s more electric.
Impact on consumers
Uptimes, especially in the collision industry, have increased. Spangler said jobs that previously took two to three days now take a week or more on average.
But a longer wait time doesn’t equate to a reduction, according to Chun. The demand for skilled workers has increased the labor costs for repair shops, which pass the costs on to customers.
Additionally, demand continues to increase as more and more registered cars hit the road each year. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported nearly 269 million vehicles registered in the United States in 2016, a jump of 7% from just 10 years earlier.
As technology in the auto industry continues to advance, it is possible that it may shift from one of the root causes of the shortage to its solution, according to Barb Walden, acting dean of technical sciences at Truckee Meadows Community College.
“As technology continues to grow, tools will be manufactured to help a person multitask,” she said. “I think the shortage will be exhausted by the technology.”
But with more hybrids and EVs on the road each year, Spangler said the shortage will get worse before it gets better.
“It’s going to get more acute as we move forward as new technologies are coming out,” he said. “Who would have thought that an automotive technician would have to worry about picking up global position satellite signals (for autonomous vehicles)? “
A shortage of skilled workers could slow the deployment of vehicles, Spangler said.
“This is part of the consideration for manufacturers on how fast they can deploy,” he said. “They have to have people who can maintain and maintain these vehicles safely. Pulling a battery out of a high voltage system is a very big deal. “
Reduce the gap
Spangler said now is the perfect time to enter the field, with job prospects “off the charts”. But the industry needs to go through major changes to attract more workers, he said.
“One of the things we need in transportation technology is a way to make it sexy,” he said. Automotive technicians are “skilled and professional technicians, good diagnosticians, but that shade tree mechanic, that fat monkey image has to be overcome.”
Walden said she has seen a growing tendency for students to believe they need some form of a bachelor’s degree. She argued that it was not for everyone, and Truckee Meadows took steps to reach more students and educate them about alternative career paths through events such as job fairs.
But there is still a long way to go, Walden said. She believes higher wages would help attract more people.
According to Emsi data, the median salary for auto service technicians and mechanics in Clark County is $ 17.50 an hour.
According to the Department of Education, Training and Rehabilitation, the average salary in Nevada in 2016 was $ 21.17 overall and $ 20.41 for auto service technicians and mechanics.
In Clark County, the numbers are less attractive. The Emsi report found that the median wage for auto service workers in Clark County is $ 17.50 an hour. The average hourly wage in the Las Vegas Valley is $ 21.37, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With most mechanics paying tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to build their toolbox, Nakama said workers can take years to get their money back.
Bob Potts, research director for GOED, said he expects wages to rise, but it will take time.
“It’s not a very high salary,” Potts said. “If there is additional demand, you usually see an appreciation in wages. … Now is a time when demand is increasing, so wages are going up, but there is going to be a lag for the workforce to realize what this means to them.