A curious person, who uses their sleuthing skills to get to the bottom of a problem with the aid of computerized diagnostic equipment, may not be what most people picture when they think about automotive technicians or diesel mechanics. Yet, today, successful candidates in these occupations are just that; they are inquisitive problem solvers. They need these skills to work in a field that has become increasingly technical and computerized.
There is a shortage of workers with these skills nationally, and in Wisconsin, employers are having trouble finding the talent they need to fill positions. In the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, a public-private partnership, called the MATC RevUp program, has been launched to help recruit more people into the field and provide needed training.
Tom Hurvis, Co-founder of Old World Industries, issued a $3 million challenge grant in March 2017 to expand automotive programs at the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and kick off fund raising to create the Al Hurvis-Peak Transportation Center. Grant funding will provide seed money to launch expanded academic programming and outreach activities, including the additional personnel and equipment expenses for the new transportation center.
The grant provides $1 million in immediate funding, and up to an additional $2 million for every dollar MATC raises for the RevUp program over two years. To house the transportation center, MATC is repurposing an existing auditorium at its downtown campus. The building will be named the Al Hurvis PEAK Transportation Center to honor Tom Hurvis’ father, Al Hurvis, who was an automotive executive in the Milwaukee area.
The RevUp project is taking aim at the causes behind the talent gap in the state.
“The biggest issues are two-fold. First, there is a shortage. The recession caused people to hold off retiring. But now, with the economy rebounding, combined with all the changes in technology, a lot of those baby boomers are leaving. We’re going to have serious technician gaps in the workforce,” said Steve Herro, Project Manager of the Al Hurvis-Peak Transportation Center at MATC. “Secondly, there is a negative stereotype around auto mechanics. It is seen as a non-technical career with no growth potential. This is why we use the term technicians, to better reflect the current reality of this occupation.”
In addition to technology evolving, the way that young people find their way to careers like automotive technician or diesel mechanic has also changed.
“In the past, young people probably had some sort of mentor—like a family member—who was working on a car and they got a chance to help. In our urban areas, today, youth coming up have not had the same sorts of opportunities,” said Herro.
The RevUp program is focused on opportunities for students in urban settings. The two-pronged approach is providing additional support and engagement activities for existing students and outreach into the community to get more young people interested in transportation careers.
MATC RevUp will be partnering with area groups, like the Boys and Girls Club, which have expertise in putting on camps, to host automotive-related camps starting this summer. These camps will be at the middle school and high school level and introduce students to careers in the automotive industry. Representatives from area businesses will offer their time as mentors. One of the planned activities for high schoolers is to build raceable go carts. This project will provide experience with engines, fabrication, and auto-body painting.
Herro points out that the skills learned by automotive technicians provide advancement opportunities over time along a career pathway. These skills are also highly transferable according to Herro, and technicians may not spend their whole careers in the automotive field.
“One of our instructors told me that he had a student from the diesel program who went on to work on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico making $100 grand after three years. Diesel is a huge area because you can work on any diesel engine. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a power company, in a truck, or in a manufacturing setting,” said Herro.
The RevUp program will also be running after-school clubs during the school year. While Wisconsin has many high-quality automotive programs that meet national standards, many schools in the state have discontinued their automotive programs due to costs.
“Often, an automotive program might have $500 to $1000 per year to purchase supplies. That doesn’t even provide annual updates for their automotive diagnostic equipment,” said Herro. “We need to do more than just support those schools. We need to dive deeper into the community and get more students interested in these programs,” he said.
Milwaukee area native, Tom Hurvis, chairman of Old World Industries, LLC, the parent company of the PEAK automotive brand, issued this funding challenge to help fill the need for more technicians and provide opportunities for students in urban Milwaukee to obtain the skills needed for a family-supporting career in the automotive field.
Interested donors can contact Laura Bray, Executive Director of the MATC Foundation and MATC Vice President of College Advancement and External Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.