Auto dealer creates program targeting technician shortage

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Photo courtesy of Chariot Automotive Group

Tipton-based Chariot Automotive Group is looking to address a growing shortage of automotive technicians by appealing to high school students.

The company launched its Automotive Technician Education Pathway, or ATEP, this year after about two years of planning, with the goal of giving high school juniors and seniors hands-on experience and the opportunity for an apprenticeship and potentially a full-time job.

The program is run in partnership with Ivy Tech Community College’s Kokomo campus, from which students can begin earning credit toward an associate’s degree in automotive technology.

Jim Woolf, workforce development coordinator for Chariot, told Inside INdiana Business the shortage of techs is being felt nationwide, but particularly in north central Indiana.

“These folks today are highly trained, highly skilled, highly educated individuals, of course, working on the types of vehicles we’re all driving today, with the mini computer modules, a lot of the technology involved, so we have to train these techs a lot,” Woolf said. “In fact, they’re constantly being trained with new vehicles coming out every year. But with the shortage, we decided at Chariot Auto to grow our own and start offering this, this program for our high schoolers.”

Chariot cites data from the National Automobile Dealers Association, which says the automotive and truck retail industry needs to replace nearly 76,000 techs annually to keep up with retirements and new job demand.

Woolf said the shortage is typical of what is going on with a lot of other skilled trades, which traditionally has been promoted less as a viable option for high school graduates than going to a four-year college to get a degree.

“This particular occupation is a trade just like carpenters, electricians, plumbers, anything that we typically use in our daily lives; auto techs are the same,” he said. “It’s a skilled trade, but this particular trade requires continual and high-tech education when you’re working on EV cars, when you’re working on the cars with the computer modules that we have in them.”

The program is based out of Chariot’s Academy location in Tipton. The first class began in August with 27 students participating, nearly triple the amount they expected.

Woolf said tapping into Ivy Tech’s Automotive Technology Program was key, as professors will come down to the Chariot location and provide classroom instruction in addition to the hands-on learning.

“Our Department of Labor-registered apprenticeship program has our tech’s going to Ivy Tech to finish that associate degree, so we thought, ‘Let’s give our high schoolers a two year jump on that,’” he said. “When they graduate from high school, they’ll be able to be hired, and if they’re hired with us, then they can just go right into the apprenticeship program. That is a paid apprenticeship, and the techs get paid 40 hours a week to go to work. We pay their tuition, and we also pay their time in class.”

And Chariot already has plans for growth with the program. He said the company is currently looking at setting the program up at one of its two Kokomo locations to serve Howard County students.

But Woolf noted that other dealerships around the state could follow a similar path.

“The model’s there. Ivy Tech is statewide, and this curriculum is statewide,” he said. “So I think other automotive dealers around the state could join together or if they have three or four or five dealerships like Chariot does, they could go on their own. But it’s easy for three or four dealerships to get together and create the same program anywhere in the state of Indiana using Ivy Tech in the model that we’ve proven.”

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