Subaru Building Ambitious Effort to Train More Service Technicians

While most of the sales news out of the auto industry is sobering these days, Subaru is in a rare and enviable position. The company sold 680,135 new vehicles in 2017, which represents growth of five percent from the year before. It’s the tenth consecutive year of sales growth for Subaru, which estimates it will have five million vehicles on American roads by 2024. The company DOES have a problem, however: a lack of service technicians to keep up with this growth.

According to the New York Times, shortages of auto technicians have existed for years, and the problem is only going to get worse.

“The shortfall of automotive technicians is not new, but as vehicles have grown more computerized and vocational programs have disappeared from high schools, the situation has become more urgent,” wrote the Times’ Norman Mayersohn. “No longer is the career path a matter of looking over the shoulder of a patient mentor. Advancing in the profession demands digital skills — a diagnostician who can solve puzzles without physical clues, like an engine bearing that knocks or an axle shaft that vibrates.”

Despite the high wages qualified vehicle service technicians can earn – north of six figures after a few years of experience – the number of graduates remains too low to fill the needs of auto dealers’ service shops. This leaves dealers looking for a solution to meet their own unique needs, particularly as the service sector is making up larger shares of its profits, and the contribution sales makes to the bottom line shrinks. So while Subaru’s position isn’t unique, the company’s growth makes the need for technicians even more urgent.

“We have 6,677 techs” at Subaru’s 631 U.S. dealerships, Mike Campbell, VP of service and quality for Subaru of America, told Automotive News. “We need to double that in the next three to four years.”

The Subaru University of America program attempts to bridge the gap. The program is run at 265 technical schools across the U.S. to graduate over 4,000 students per year. The company estimates that it needs to increase its dealership work force to more than 13,000 technicians by 2024. The company is adding three more training centers (in Seattle, Charlotte and Kansas City) to its current group of 12.

Still, the shortfall is expected to continue as the number of graduates fails to keep up with attrition from the workforce. Last year, Subaru hired 2,323 new service technicians, but due to people leaving the workforce, the net increase was only 613 technicians over the previous year.