Where Did All The “Grits” Go?

So… to answer your first question, “What the hell is a Grit?” It’s a term that I heard years ago. It was a derogatory term used by the “in crowd” to label the renegade gearheads. The bad boy mechanics with loud cars. Those that would rather gather at the shop than go to a preppie party.  Those, myself included, whose hands were always stained with grease and whose fingernails were perpetually filled with the grit of whatever project car they were wrenching on. I always considered being called a Grit, a badge of honor. I had earned it.

The second question is, “Where did they go?”

According to Auto Service World, 642,000 automotive, collision and diesel technicians will be needed between now and 2024. Contrast that with the fact that less than 50,000 new technicians are graduating with post-secondary automotive training programs annually. That number has been flat, and remains flat, as the demand for talented mechanics increases. So… if the demand is there, why aren’t the mechanics?

Today’s vehicles are far more advanced than those of just a few years ago. There’s no carburetor to set air-fuel mixture. There’s no distributor to set timing, no points and condenser to change and no dwell to set. They’ve been replaced with complex computer systems that manage every aspect of an engine’s performance. Add to that all the advanced electronics associated with safety features like automatic braking systems, lane change assist systems and vehicle restraint systems, you quickly realize that today’s mechanic has to be a smart, highly trained problem solver. These are the same critical thinking skills that are in demand by other industries like advanced manufacturing and IT services. Unfortunately, a career path that leads you to a desk working on computer systems appears to be much “easier” than one that puts you in a service bay applying the same problem-solving skills to repairing a car. Afterall… who wants to be a grit?

How can the automotive repair industry change that mindset?  Here are a few thoughts from an old mechanic.

  • BRING BACK SHOP CLASS! Show middle and high school age kids that working with your hands is okay. Making and fixing things is gratifying and can be turned into a rewarding career. You don’t need a 4-year college degree… after all, what are you really going to do with a bachelor’s degree in political science except wait tables to pay off your student loans?
  • ENCOURAGE MENTORSHIPS AND APPRENTICESHIPS. Dealerships should encourage its experienced mechanics to become “training ambassadors.” Give them the time to visit shop classes and secondary training programs to share their knowledge in a hands-on training environment. Give young people the opportunity to get their hands dirty in REAL service departments alongside experienced technicians. This is also a great way for a dealership to identify the best and brightest of the next generation of wrench turners.
  • TALENT DEVELOPMENT. If manufacturers want more quality technicians, they need to make Aspiring mechanics could receive factory-supported, paid, hands-on training in an exchange for a work service commitment. This would put the next generation of technicians into the workforce immediately and give them the brand-specific training dealership service departments need.

Today’s cars and trucks have more sophisticated computers than the first rockets sent to the moon. The men and women that work on them deserve competitive pay and benefits that make being an automotive technician as attractive as being a programmer or network administrator.

The next generation of Grits are out there. They just need to be enlightened to the benefits of the automotive service trade and encouraged to pursue the profession.

Thoughts? Criticisms? Wanna’ have a cold one at my shop? Let me know.

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