TechForce Foundation and the American Rental Association are collaborating to address the technician workforce demand. The American Rental Association (ARA) and TechForce Foundation, Scottsdale, Ariz., are collaborating in an effort to raise the profile of trade and technical careers necessary to support future growth in the equipment rental industry.
TechForce Foundation is a leading, educational, nonprofit 501(c)(3) that has developed the FutureTech Success™ campaign, an industry-wide initiative to drive tomorrow’s workforce of technicians by inspiring, supporting and connecting middle and high school students and their influencers with the resources to support their technical education and career development.
“We are excited to announce ARA’s support of the FutureTech Success™ campaign, and proud to be named an association partner. The demand for skilled technicians to keep the equipment rental industry thriving has become increasingly dire,” says Tony Conant, ARA CEO. “ARA recognizes that this labor shortage is a significant issue for our members and the industry as a whole. Partnering with TechForce Foundation is one step that ARA is taking to address the growing concern and provide resources that our members can benefit from.”
Conant was joined by Jennifer Maher, TechForce Foundation CEO, at The Rental Show® in New Orleans where they discussed the challenges that rental business operators face with finding people with tactile skills and the technical training to build, diagnose and maintain various types of equipment in the industry.
“Having ARA on board as an association partner with TechForce Foundation in the FutureTech Success™ campaign helps us reach a new audience and opens up opportunities for us to assist an additional segment of the industry. There is power in numbers and the more companies and organizations that join in our cause and help share the message, the increased likelihood for success,” says Maher.
“For decades, technicians have been unfairly identified as ‘grease monkeys.’ It’s a label that was never true but, today, is just ridiculous when you consider the complexity of the equipment in the rental industry. Frankly, we’re out to disband that negative image once and for all. And, in the process, we want to inspire and support those who are looking for a secure and rewarding career that fits their talent and interests,” says Maher.
According to the Technician Demand Report, published by TechForce Foundation, 125,000 new entrant technicians in auto, diesel and collision will be needed annually over the next 10 years. “If you look at the statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS), they accounted only for new entrants in this career field, but failed to account for the replacement component of demand, which is a considerable number,” says Maher. “The new BLS projection is more in line with what TechForce believes the demand to be.”
A number of factors have contributed to the current shortage, such as the growing economy, increased demand caused by the 2008 recession and the complexity of vehicles and equipment with more intricate diagnostics than ever before. Overcoming the misperception that a four-year degree is the only road to success in America and educating students and parents on the rewarding opportunities that a technician career can provide are the fundamental issues in overcoming the labor shortage, according to Maher.
Earlier this year, the ARA Foundation initiated the Technical Training Grants program, which is designed to provide financial assistance to rental business employees pursuing higher learning in areas from welding to hospitality services. This program assists employees with a minimum of 1,000 hours of service to a rental business who are eligible for up to 50 percent of the training costs, up to a maximum of $1,000.
As the CEO and executive director of TechForce Foundation, Jennifer Maher has a bold vision. “For decades, technicians have been unfairly identified as ‘grease monkeys.’ It’s a label that was never true but, today, is just ridiculous when you consider the complexity of vehicles. Frankly, we’re out to kill that negative image once and for all. And, in the process, we want to inspire and support those who are looking for a secure and rewarding career that fits their talent and interests,”said Maher.
Prior to joining TechForce, Maher had extensive non-profit experience outside of the automotive industry. She has served on the senior leadership team for Make-A-Wish America as its vice president of marketing and corporate relations; national director of corporate relations for YMCA of the USA; associate director for The Nature Conservancy; sales manager for Marriott Corp.; and president of a cause-marketing consulting firm, The Cause Academy.
For Make-A-Wish, she was responsible for national brand marketing, communications, media relations, web initiatives, research and impact data collection, and the sales and account management of the foundation’s corporate and media partnership agreements. In addition, she managed strategy, budget and operations.
Recruited by YMCA of the USA, Maher built and launched its first-ever national corporate partnership and strategic marketing initiative. That included establishing the initial vision, strategic plan, infrastructure and processes necessary to launch the new initiative. Over an eight-year period, she managed department operations, its budget, and legal and accounting issues.
In addition to being a consummate fundraiser, Maher has crafted celebrity and media partnerships, including launching ESPN SportsCenter’s “My WIsh” series (recently celebrating its 10th season) and securing Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, John Cena and Annika Sorenstam as Make-A-Wish spokespersons, and Michael Jordan as its Chief Wish Ambassador.
Brand marketing awards during her Make-A-Wish tenure include winning the prestigious 2007 Gold Addy and Silver Addy awards and 2006 Telly Award for Make-A-Wish PSA television campaign; the 2007 Webby Award for “Best new nonprofit website”; and the 2008 Golden Halo: “Best integrated message” award for the implementation of the foundation’s first signature campaign — Destination Joy — presented by LAY’S, which generated more than 1 billion consumer impressions in just 30 days. Also, she was a finalist for PRWeek’s “Nonprofit Campaign of the Year” Award in 2008.
Currently, Maher is a member of Women in Auto Care, and has formed strategic partnerships between TechForce Foundation and numerous industry associations, including ASE, NATEF, ATMC, AMRA, AYES, Auto Care Association, Collision Repair Education Foundation and SkillsUSA.
A graduate of Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in political science/international Asian studies and a minor in Chinese, she studied two summers in Mainland China, and wrote her thesis on the 1989 Pro-Democracy Movement in mainland China (Tiananmen Square) entitled “The Revolution by Fax Machine.”
The TechForce Foundation may be a relatively new name to some but the organization actually has fairly well established footprint in the automotive education industry. Can you give us a brief history of the organization?
TechForce Foundation was originally formed in 2005 as the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) Drive Foundation with the mission to promote technical training and automotive driving safety. By 2007, it had evolved to providing support to financially disadvantaged students attending UTI campuses across the country with scholarships and grants to pursue their technical education. In 2016, the foundation changed its name to TechForce Foundation, expanding its mission to “champion students to and through their education and into careers as professional technicians” by not only providing scholarships and grants to students going to any technical education institution, but also supporting more career development opportunities for young people to explore the technician profession. The foundation has always been an independent501(c)(3) nonprofit, separate from UTI, but UTI was the foundation’s largest inaugural donor, hence the original name. Today, TechForce enjoys the support of dozens of corporate and individual donors, including UTI, but also companies from all sectors, including aftermarket, diesel, collision repair, OEs, product manufacturers, retailers and supporters of transitioning veterans.
This year at AAPEX, the foundation released a report titled, “Transportation Technician New Entrant Demand,” which found the estimated demand for “new entrant” vehicle technicians is significantly greater than previously reported. What’s the solution to ensuring this issue is resolved?
Service repair operators — both aftermarket and dealership — have complained about the lack of qualified technicians for at least two decades. Even so, no one has accurately quantified the problem. Anecdotal information is important but studying the problem and putting hard numbers to it shows that the problem is even worse than what everyone thought. For example, the report we published late last year indicated that for this year alone, the vehicle industry (auto, diesel and collision) needs more than 137,000 “new entrant” technicians. We believe that the only way to solve the technician shortage and create a sustainable pipeline for the future is with an integrated, industry-wide strategic plan. This is something that has never been attempted before. There has been a lot of wonderful work done, and great programs developed, but unfortunately, whether intentional or not, many of them have been in silos. As an industry, we have not done a very good job of truly working together to solve this problem. We believe that the FutureTech Success industry initiative launched last fall is that much-needed strategic industry plan.
Tell us more about the FutureTech Success initiative.
As I mentioned, solving the technician shortage is all about having a well-thought out strategic plan, and that plan is FutureTech Success. Its purpose is threefold:
1) To give middle- and high-school students, parents and influencers the tools and experiences to recognize and foster tactile intelligence, 2) to help reposition the image of the profession; and 3) to help the industry speak with a collective voice with regard to its workforce development needs. So how will we do that?
First, we want to identify and provide naturally talented tactile learners with after school programs, on- and off-line activities, mentors and experiences to engage them with the highly advanced world of vehicle technology so they, along with their parents and influencers, realize that there are great career opportunities that they may not have been aware of, or considered.
Second, is to change a public perception that has haunted this profession for decades: The “grease monkey” image. This image was never deserved, but today it is so far from reality that it’s crazy. The complexity of today’s vehicles rival some of the most sophisticated aircraft — and the technical and computer knowledge, as well as the tactile and STEM skills required to work on them, is truly amazing.
Third, is getting everyone in the industry on board to work together. We need to speak with a collective voice. Right now, we have well-intentioned messaging out in the public about technical careers, but it is sporadic and not well-aligned. Our messaging must be consistent. We also spend too much time and energy “reinventing the wheel.” We need to do a better job identifying best practices and programs that are already out there, and then sharing them across the industry
Our futuretechsuccess.org website serves to integrate all three of these areas. It is a hub where anyone interested can find information and resources on technician careers, whether they be students, parents and influencers, educators or industry professionals
You’ve had a number of notable organizations sign on to support the foundation. Tell us about some of the most recent to sign on and what kind of involvement you are looking for?
Advance Auto Parts was the first sponsor to sign on, and we applaud them specifically for their vision and leadership, because getting the first partner is always the hardest and they stood tall with us. We’ve also gotten the commitment of Bridgestone, Nissan, UTI, Snap-on and Shell Lubricants. What’s beginning to turn the tide, however, is that we are also starting to secure peer companies, truly demonstrating that we all need to be at the table and leave our business cards and industry silos at the door. With AutoZone, Valvoline and General Motors commitments, we proved that there’s no exclusivity when it comes to solving the technician shortage; we’re in this together. And last, I’d mention the momentum building as the campaign not only attracts those from a workforce development/recruiting side of the house, but marketers, like Interstate Batteries, Manheim and WD-40, who recognize that their brands, storytelling and community relations needs to be authentic in standing with and for technicians, people who love working with their hands, and supporting technical education and careers. Put all that together, and you’ve got plenty of reasons to be excited about the momentum of FutureTech Success.
TechForce recently held a 12-week program at the Arizona Science Center working with middle school students, where you are able to showcase the organization’s mission and philosophy of supporting and celebrating these burgeoning “hands-on heroes.” What kind of response are you getting at these events from kids, parents and teachers?
We have been very pleased with the response. For the majority of these students, this was the first time they have had the opportunity to do any real work with their hands and experience the feeling of creativity and accomplishment that comes with that. Due to our school systems moving away from vocational education and training, those opportunities are few and far between these days, which is exactly why we developed this program. Teachers have been very supportive in helping identify the right kids to attend the program, and I believe they see this program as something that is truly beneficial to them. On the last week of the program we held an open house where the students were able to “show-off” their projects and explain what they learned. It was rewarding to see the pride reflected in the parents’ faces that were in attendance.
Moreover, both students and parents were able to witness the support of the industry as several industry leaders attended and participated in this event. One of the attendees — Michael Romano, Universal Technical Institute’s Avondale Campus president, summed up the experience quite well when he said that even if these students don’t wind up in a profession using their hands, this kind of experience will help them be “better workers, better producers and have a more well-rounded education as a whole.”
What else do you have planned for the program in 2018?
A key way to solve the qualified tech shortage problem is through grassroots efforts, which was exactly the focus of our Fall 2017 program with the Arizona Science Center. By targeting specific communities and young students — in this case, middle-school students — we can start to change how schools, students and parents approach career development. This month we will launch our second phase of the program, which will focus on high school students. We believe that a critical piece in getting young men and women interested in technical careers is sustaining their interest over time. It cannot be a “one and done.” So our efforts will be focused on creating a journey of various experiences and touch points that will take them from middle school through high school and post-secondary training into industry careers
Our efforts in Arizona are really serving as our model, and proof of concept to replicate in other cities around the country. An integral and absolutely critical piece in our strategic model is to bring in local industry and educators as part of the solution. To that end, we have created the Arizona FutureTech Workforce Development Council. The council consists of local school, school board and school district members, as well as local transportation industry companies. We plan for this Workforce Development Council to be the first of many states, as we expand around the country.
We are currently looking at a short list of cities for consideration as our next location for expansion. We expect a final decision within the next month or two, with implementation beginning later this year.
How can AMN readers get involved with the foundation? What needs do you currently have in terms of financial and industry support?
Our financial strategy for the FutureTech Success initiative is based on the McDonald’s restaurant model. Sell a million hamburgers for a dollar each and suddenly you have a million dollars. This issue is much too big for any single entity to solve. But by harnessing the resources of the entire transportation industry and all its segments, we don’t need a huge amount of money from any one organization. We just need to get a large number of organizations involved. So, we are looking for financial support from across the board…from small Mom and Pop independent garages to national aftermarket retailers to OEMs. Each to their own ability to help.
In addition, on the nonprofit side, we have a strong base of support from across the industry with key associations. They bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and passion around the technician shortage issue, as well as important in-kind donations to help further the cause. Any individual or organization that is interested in getting involved can visit our website at techforce.org/support. There we highlight opportunities to help financially, with training aids, and with volunteer time.
Recently, our industry has stepped-up with a number of initiatives to inform the general public about the value and connection between STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and future automotive career opportunities. The efforts have featured a multi-level approach, from educating students and parents about future workforce needs and benefits, to informing the STEM community about the wide variety of necessary backgrounds and opportunities, to raising awareness and involvement within our own industry.
One such effort is the Transportation Challenge, an initiative that deserves your attention. Not only does it have the support of a broad range of industry participants, its focus is on a student demographic industry employers have not traditionally considered — students who aren’t in an automotive program.
Connect, Interest and Encourage Students Earlier
The grassroots concept for the Transportation Challenge was created by the TechForce Foundation. For those who aren’t aware of TechForce, it’s a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) that believes solving the qualified technician shortage problem requires reaching out to students at a younger age. Its mission: To champion students to and through their education and into careers as professional technicians.
“We need to work at the grassroots level by offering tangible and relevant experiences to adolescents as they start to think about their possible future careers,” explained Greg Settle, director of National Initiatives for the TechForce Foundation. “The Transportation Challenge focuses on students being able to use their STEM skills to work on applicable, vehicle-related simulations. An early experience like this may prove to be the first step for students to pursue one of many rewarding automotive careers. I don’t know if every one of these students will, but I do know that after an experience like this, some are a step closer.”
Hands-on weekly sessions for the first Transportation Challenge — geared for middle school-aged students — ran September through December 2017, with a wrap-up and public demonstration last month in Phoenix, AZ. A second Challenge, to run February through May 2018, also in Phoenix, will use high school sophomores as its demographic. They’ll serve as pilots to critique, refine and perfect before the program is rolled out across the nation.
TechForce was assisted by a task force of volunteers from the ASE Training Manager’s Council (ATMC), who helped design five “automotive challenge scenarios” the students would later choose from and execute. Settle asked Tim Dwyer, an education specialist with ConsuLab Educatech Inc. to lead the task force. In addition, local educators, representatives from national associations and executives from industry employers shared constructive feedback and evaluations to help fine tune its delivery. Sponsors General Motors, Nissan North America, Advance Auto Parts, Snap-on Tools and Universal Technical Institute underwrote the costs of the Challenge.
“We feel we have to go back as early as middle school-aged students and put self-discovery at the level where they’ll hopefully spark an interest in a career in the transportation industry and help solve some of the quality technician shortage problems we’re having right now,” Dwyer explained.
The ATMC task force helped design five automotive challenges for the student teams to select from. One of the middle school teams (left) built and demonstrated a planetary gear set. Another team (right) was tasked with engineering a two-axle vehicle that would protect an egg in the event of a frontal impact crash. (All images — Tim Dwyer)
A Program Built for Discovery
“To meet these challenges, these young people transformed from being a group of individuals into team members who relied on one another,” Dwyer noted. “The Transportation Challenge students worked in three teams to learn real-life tasks. These lessons ranged from structural engineering and material compatibility to the chemistry of atmospheric air and how it affects an engine, topics usually unavailable in a traditional classroom.”
Once part of a Transportation Challenge event, student teams choose one challenge out of the five created by the ATMC task force. One team selected designing a crash test, which required it to build a two-axle vehicle that would protect an egg in the event of a frontal impact. The second team chose to engineer a working turbocharger for the compression of intake air into an internal combustion engine. The final team was challenged with building a planetary gear set utilizing a fixed speed electric motor that would move a fixed weight a certain distance.
Each of the teams then used and developed their STEM skills by spending two hours each week at CREATE U facility at the Arizona Science Center, where they had access to CNC machines, laser cutters, 3D printers and an entire woodworking shop to bring their transportation prototype to life. Industry experts served as coaches and mentors to provide real-world insight and training to the students. The Challenge concluded with students demonstrating their projects to their parents and a number of special guests from the education community and the transportation industry.
“Every child has a path and for some, university may not be the best fit,” observed Chevy Humphrey, the CEO of the Arizona Science Center. “This [Transportation Challenge] program gives youth opportunities to invent, design and fabricate materials for actual use. It also opens their eyes to alternate ways to become successful by leveraging their talents and passion.”
A Call to Action
“Understand that the whole founding point of this project was to establish an event that could be replicated and offered in other sites,” Dwyer noted. “The Technology Challenge events in Arizona were prototypes to introduce middle school through high school-aged learners to working with their hands in transportation situations. We had a lot of successes, but also encountered some problems that need to be resolved.”
“Here’s one bottleneck that concerns me,” he continued. “The ATMC task force trainers — who volunteered to develop the challenges the young students would face — typically teach older audiences comprised of working technicians, other shop staff and owners. We had some problems providing input and framing challenges at a level and context appropriate to younger students.”
“This problem could be offset by involving experts from our industry who work with young students every day, such as instructors from the North American Council of Automotive Teachers (NACAT). “I see a real opportunity for NACAT members to help this initiative. Its members are virtually everywhere, a resource TechForce needs when it visits different locales. They’re also more attuned to teaching middle school, high school, vocational school and college aged students. And they’re ideally suited to developing challenges and serving as mentors for a couple of hours per week working with and challenging these young people to work with their hands. It’s a natural fit: It’s what they do, and it’s in their DNA.”
Watch this overview of the Transportation Challenge, designed to help middle- and high-school students connect STEM skills with today’s advancing automotive technology, and explore future career paths in the transportation industry.
Constructive Feedback Provides Traction
“Every child has a path and for some, university isn’t the best fit,” shared Chevy Humphrey, the CEO of the Arizona Science Center. “This [Transportation Challenge] program gives youth opportunities to invent, design, and fabricate materials for actual use. It also opens their eyes to alternate ways to become successful by leveraging their talents and passion.”
“Most young students, unfortunately, are relegated to the classroom,” noted Michael Romano, president of Universal Technical Institute’s campus in Avondale, AZ. “They don’t always have the opportunity to be exposed to a greater variety of experiences. Bringing them to a learning facility where they can use their hands to experiment and try different things will help them be better workers, better producers and have a more well-rounded education as a whole. And some of them may choose automotive as a pursuit.”
“There’s power in working as a team toward a common cause,” observed Eric Rogers, one of the Estrella Middle School teachers involved in the first Challenge. “Problem solving, applying divergent thinking and finding multiple solutions are key learning points for the students. In addition, collaborating and sharing can draw a better contribution from another team member that improves upon the original idea.”
At the end of January 2018, in between the two pilot events, the TechForce Foundation invited thirty leaders from national associations and upper-level industry executives to its inaugural annual summit of the FutureTech Success National Leadership Cabinet. “We’re so grateful to have the support, engagement and enthusiasm of leaders throughout the industry,” said Jennifer Maher, CEO and Executive Director of TechForce. “No one entity can fix the qualified technician shortage problem. We all must row in the same direction.”
The Summit group explored ways to implement and activate the campaign within their own companies and associations, and brainstorming collaborative ideas around which the whole industry can unite. It also unveiled its revamped website, which includes the FutureTech Resource Hub (a one-stop portal through which parents and future technicians can find after-school programs, technical schools, scholarships and other resources), as well as an Industry Hub (which enables industry recruiters, managers, working technicians and educators to connect with future technicians).
If you’re a shop owner, working technician or instructor up for the chance to make a difference, please contact Jennifer Maher at the TechForce Foundation