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Talent: Where Have all the Car Builders Gone?

With Covid-19 came intense and almost daily uncertainty and constant changes to our lives in the U.S. and worldwide. The pandemic impacted the lives of many: loss of family members , loss of once-steady jobs, alongside inflation and an uncertain economy ahead.

If one thing remains the same in 2022 as it did pre-pandemic, it is that car builders and enthusiasts alike are still chomping at the bit to get their rides show ready- creating a huge demand for work. Wait times are now longer for a turn-key custom build in a field where there is a growing gap in the demand for high-quality builds and the number of talented individuals available to achieve it.

Just a quick look at a job-search website and their data shows that the number people who were unemployed custom car builders has dropped from 10% in 2010 to just under 1.4 % in 2019. So if the labor force is back to pre-pandemic levels and a shortage of technicians in the automotive customization field remains, it fields a larger question of why does technician scarcity remain and what is the industry coming together to do about it?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: the unemployment rate edged down to 3.5 percent as of July 2022. Job growth was widespread, led by gains in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and health care. Both total nonfarm employment and the unemployment rate have returned to their February 2020 pre-pandemic levels.

The concern has grown as the pandemic has us wondering if men and women who are looking for jobs post-pandemic will consider skilled-trade college training to fill the void of jobs waiting to be filled. As 4-year college has become the norm, skilled-trade college enrollment has dropped and along with it the able-bodied tradesmen and women that make our roads, homes, cars, and vital infrastructures.

According to The Hechinger Report, the pipeline for future workers in high-end manufacturing and other hands-on fields, from homeland security to firefighting, has sprung a giant leak during the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of students pursuing two-year vocational degrees in precision production has fallen 18 percent this fall (2020), compared with the fall of 2019. During that same period, 15 percent fewer students enrolled in associate degree programs in engineering technology while mechanic and repair technician students were down 16 percent.

The number of students enrolled in job-focused degree programs such as mechanic and repair technician students was down 16 percent in 2020

When surveying a small sample of 2,000 Phoenix high school students and parents in January 2020, found that while 70 percent indicated their high school currently offers classes that align to the trades, only 32 percent reported their high school promotes trade school education as a potential path following graduation.

Although small, this survey may be a ripple in the wave throughout the US that seems clear that as interest in the automotive industry grows, so does the need for those of us in the industry to champion the idea of promoting the trade to the next generation of car builders.

It appears we have a long road ahead of us if we want to attract young hardworking men and women who will become the new lifeline in keeping the craft of custom car-building alive.

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