As automotive technology has evolved over the last 40 years, quality auto technicians have had to develop high-level technical knowledge to identify issues that need to be fixed. These are not careers that should be overlooked. They are local jobs that can’t be outsourced and allow men and women to earn six-figure incomes.
Unfortunately, there are not enough quality technicians in the pipeline to satisfy the need for New Jersey’s dealerships – as many as 12,500 new technicians by 2026 to replace retiring techs and add to their ranks to service increasingly complex vehicles. That’s why the industry is working to change the perception of an auto tech career one school; one teacher; one parent; and one student at a time.
The New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers (NJ CAR) works with a wide variety of workforce development stakeholders, including local dealerships, automotive trainers, and vocational schools, to build training programs to increase the pool of potential candidates.
In 2019, NJ CAR launched the Automotive Technician Apprenticeship Program (ATAP) with the help of a $907,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Labor (NJDOL). The ATAP program, recognized as a USDOL Registered Apprenticeship, offers candidates an opportunity to receive automotive training at little-to-no cost and places them in full-time, paid positions with a local dealership to serve as an apprentice, where they receive on-the-job training from seasoned technician mentors.
Breanna Datello, NJ CAR’s director of dealer services, built the ATAP program to alleviate the severe shortage of quality auto techs at New Jersey dealerships.
“The fact that a lot of technicians are retiring or aging out of the industry shows that we have a serious decline in automotive training for individuals graduating high school,” Datello says.
NJ CAR has helped update automotive technology training in New Jersey to meet the current needs of the industry. After getting approved by the US Department of Labor, ATAP launched in September 2019 with 38 apprentices in Middlesex County. Each apprentice was placed with a dealership that sponsored them throughout the 144 hours of related technical instruction at local vocational schools. The classroom instruction was complemented by a minimum of 2,000 hours of on-the-job training.
Altarik “AJ” Winstead, a C-Technician at Dayton Toyota, is one of the many apprentices that has benefited from the ATAP program. He believes that learning a technology-related trade has many benefits and enjoys being challenged. AJ notes that the hybrid of learning concepts in the classroom and applying them in the dealership was especially helpful.
Michael Dooley, director of fixed operations at Dayton Toyota, agrees. He explains that ATAP allows the dealership and the apprentices to share a symbiotic relationship, where both parties are able to benefit from one another.
“As much as the other dealers are our competition, I think having more dealers involved in the program would show the state how important this program is,” Dooley says.
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