By Gideon Scanlon
Toronto, Ontario — May 17, 2019 — I was recently reminded of a classic joke about magazine editors.
It goes something like this: a man asks three editors for advice about how to tell his children that their beloved family pet–Rufus–has been run down.
The first, from The Vancouver Sun, advises the man to break the news to the children by showing him the goriest of the photos.
The second, from The Globe and Mail, suggests the man state the facts in as banal and emotion-free a manner as possible.
The third, from The Economist, suggests he lowers taxes and deregulates.
As the editor of Collision Repair, I fear my advice would be no better. It would be my duty to suggest he invest in training his children in the latest auto repair techniques, and invest in the latest auto repair equipment.
In today’s column, I have decided to be a little less predictable.
If Brock Bulbuck, the Boyd Group’s CEO, is concerned about the shortage of technicians in the auto repair industry, you should be too.
According to statements he made in the fund’s otherwise sunny first quarter financial reports, he has less reason to worry then the average member of the industry.
“While the industry-wide technician shortage continues to be a challenge, we delivered above-average same-store sales growth in Q1,” Bulbruck is quoted as saying. “We attribute this to continued strong demand, an increased component of parts sales in our sales mix along with modest growth in our technician capacity.”
The Winnipeg firm is in a very different position than even the average banner outlet or MSO—let alone the average single business operation. If the labour shortage is being flagged as a concern for Boyd, alarm bells should be ringing for the rest of the industry.
While this magazine has a tendency to suggest that there is a silver bullet to the slings and arrows of the industry—investing in training and equipment—this advice will not protect repairers from the coming labour drain crisis–which is going to get far worse before it gets better.
I’m not being a pessimist. Even in industries without recruitment concerns, this is a problem. As members of the baby boom generation leave the workforce, millennials and post-millennials are entering it, but lack the numbers to fill all of the vacant positions. Where, in other industries, it would be easy to simply suggest that salaries should rise, the insurer-led compensation model does not allow for that to be easily accomplished in the collision sector.
In the collision repair sector, the problem is also worsened by the fact that outside of the industry, parents often mistakenly think of an auto technician career as something of an afterthought–which it shouldn’t be. In fact, correcting that misconception is part of why Collision Repair‘s trade-focused sister publication Bodyworx Professional was founded. By getting that magazine into the hands of youths, parents and key influencers like guidance counselors and teachers, we hope to show off the well-deserved pride collision repair technicians gain from their fulfilling careers.
In my conversations about the labour situation, I realize there is an approach that many progressive repairers—and the industry at large—may benefit from following. Numerous repair businesses across Canada are opening their doors to young people, teaching them about the business of auto repair in a hands-on way.
Sure, there may simply not be a magic bullet here, but this is a strategy that—if widely adopted by Canada’s progressive repairers—could make a real dent in the problem. Not every child who attends a field trip to a bodyshop will find themselves entering the industry, but by bringing them face-to-face with the realities of the trade, more and more children will be conscious of the fact that the profession exists and offers abundant opportunities.
And while I’m at it—Skills Canada is taking place at the end of the month. If there was ever a better way to get children engaged with the auto repair and auto painting trade, it is through that event. As an industry, collision repairers should rally around the competitors and make their enthusiasm known.
If the industry is going to continue to thrive, it will be because it is able to come together and show off what it has to offer to young people. Whether by supporting Skills Canada’s competitors with social media attention, sharing copies of Bodyworx Professional with young people and those who guide them through the transition to adulthood, together we can raise the profile and make careers in this industry as attractive to young people as they should be.
Come on, team, let’s wave the flag!
If you have someone you would like to provide with a copy–or a box of copies of Bodyshop Professional , we would be thrilled to oblidge. Please feel free to contact us at 905-370-0101.