Redline hired 42 cars for repairs in one day last week, and service times that used to take days can now take up to three weeks.
Hiring more mechanics could be a solution, but the applications received so far are not filling the vacancies. So increasing hours may be the only way to meet demand, Randall said.
“It would take so long before we finally found another qualified employee who could fill the gap,” he said. “Our boys don’t want to work overtime here.
“I value a weekend more than anyone, but I also value my customers and I know their car needs to be finished.”
The national outlook for shops that need to hire mechanics amid a wave of consumers looking for auto repairs is bleak. According to a 2021 report by the TechForce Foundation, the number of tech jobs nationwide fell 6.1 percent from 2016 to 2020.
The report predicts that nearly 5,000 new technician jobs will need to be created and 173,000 existing technician jobs filled by 2025 to meet auto repair needs.
The struggle to hire certified mechanics coincides with the high demand for used car repairs following the global shortage of microchips. The shortage of semiconductors — or microchips, which serve as the “brains” of car technology — has brought new car production to a halt in 2020 and 2021, resulting in more drivers driving older cars, leading to a surge in repair demand .
“With the current shortage of new cars and chips, people really need to maintain their older car,” Randall said. “Right now it’s a two to three week wait process to turn in your car, order parts, deliver and get your car ready. And it used to be two or three days at most.”
Vehicles are also becoming more complex in terms of parts and technology, which has resulted in increased service costs. At the same time, parts are moving slowly around the world due to supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Across the industry, there are supply chain issues that vary from part to part, vehicle to vehicle and brand to brand,” said Terry Burns, executive vice president of the Michigan Automobile Dealership Association. “And it can be difficult to get a certain part this month and next month it can be plentiful.”
According to Forbes, automakers expect supply chain issues and chip shortages to ease by the second half of 2022, which in turn should boost new car production.
Meanwhile, for Michigan drivers, these issues have resulted in significantly increased wait times and rising costs to have their cars repaired.
And workshop owners say the pressure doesn’t end there: Wages have gone up to pay their workers overtime to meet demand, and they’ve also had to raise prices to cover shipping costs for parts.
“It goes to the end of the consumer,” said Adam Keusch, manager of Keusch Super Service in Grand Ledge. “Let’s say we’re $89 an hour, then I have to go up to $95 an hour just to pay the extra cost. “
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of auto service technicians in the state increased 4.06 percent from 2019 to 2021 (760 in total). During that time, hourly wages for auto service technicians in Michigan increased 6.43 percent (from $21.15 to $22.51).
During the same period, Michigan’s average weekly wage rose nearly 17 percent across all industries as many sectors compete for labor. While the unemployment rate is low at 4.3 percent, Michigan’s labor force participation rate is in the bottom third of the US at 59.8 percent.
The situation with used cars means that “Help Wanted” signs are a common sight outside of auto repair shops and body shops like Redline when trying to hire new mechanics. Owners say there is a shortage of qualified applicants with technician certificates for open positions.
Stores try various methods to retain employees by increasing hourly wages, paying for technician certification courses for young employees and increasing training opportunities to try to make their stores more attractive to others.
“It seems to be as difficult as it’s ever been,” Randall said. “We offer very competitive pay, we offer comprehensive employee benefits, we’re a family business and it’s still hard to find someone who wants to do a manual labor job right now.”
The shortage of mechanics is also hitting car dealerships hard. Dealership repair shops primarily deal with warranty repairs on newer cars, and those repairs have been slowed significantly by the need for parts and labor, Burns said.
“We need more technicians at almost every location across the state,” Burns said.
Shopkeepers worry the hiring pressure will not end as they face an aging workforce retiring and a lack of interest from young workers entering the profession.
“Ten to 15 years ago a man would come in every few weeks looking for work. We haven’t had a mechanic on our doorstep looking for work in probably two years,” said Jerry Carpenter, owner of Liskey’s Auto & Truck Service in Lansing.
“We see a shortage and now it’s getting worse because the old people are burned out. They are in their 60s preparing for retirement.”
Liskey’s workforce has declined from 13 to seven technicians over the past decade. The garage used to complete almost every job the same day the car was handed in, Carpenter proudly said, but the average wait time has tripled.
These same-week turnaround times are unique: According to CCC Intelligent Solutions’ 2022 Crash Course semi-annual report, 80 percent of US stores schedule vehicle repairs two weeks or more into the future.
Chad Lodenstein, who heads the automotive department at Grand Rapids Community College, said this is the highest demand for auto mechanics in the job market that he has ever seen.
However, the total number of enrollments in the program has declined since 2012. From 2002 to 2012, enrollment has declined every year for the past decade. Lodenstein said he believes there is a negative stigma that mechanics are underpaid for a physically demanding job.