General enrolment is increasing in the States—so what’s the story in Canada?


On April 1st—like a laughable April Fools’ joke to some members of the general public—an article called “How Gen Z Is Becoming the Toolbelt Generation” was published to the Wall Street Journal. The author, Te-Ping Chen, writes that “rising pay and new technologies…are giving trade professions a face-lift, helping them shed the image of being dirty, low-end work.” Combine that with “growing skepticism about the return on a college education,” and you have a recipe that is seeing trades apprenticeship blossom in the United States.

Chin states that the number of students enrolled in vocational-focused community colleges in the U.S. rose 16 percent last year, reaching the highest level since regular data collection began in 2018.

The collision repair industry has half of what we need, then, if you ask the average autobody business owner or manager. We find ourselves neck-deep in new tools, facing fancy new technologies around every corner at trade shows; invites to demos in our e-mail inboxes (virtual or otherwise) and the like. Not to mention, electric vehicles, ever-advancing ADAS, the challenges that come alongside the insurance sector’s adoption of new technologies, new tools on your very own shop floor…do we need to go on?

In the article, Chin also notes that, in the U.S., the number of students studying construction trades rose 23 percent from 2018 to 2023, whereas trades like HVAC and vehicle maintenance and repair rose seven percent. A modest increase, compared to higher paying trades. The median pay for new construction hires rose 5.1 percent in the U.S. last year, according to payroll services provider ADP.

This stat is mirrored in Canadian data, too: The Automotive Industries of Canada (AIA Canada) released a report last year wherein the organization found that 65 percent of mechanical and collision shop owners experienced an increase in technician turnover in 2023. Nearly half of the technicians who quit did so for higher-paying jobs—and 13 percent of those who left the repair space went into construction, earning approximately CAD$1,483 in average weekly income, versus the approximate CAD$983 earned in auto repair and maintenance, per week.

Chen’s article concludes that there are two primary drivers between the increasing trends in the trades: upward-turned noses at the idea of traditional degrees and diplomas, and the growing adoption of technology in vocational schools and the industry at large—a “cool factor,” if you will. The story ends as the author connects Gen Z’s piqued interest in the skilled trades to the generation’s “entrepreneurial potential,” drawing comparisons between a young automotive repair student’s drive to start their own detailing business. Far from the rumours of “the lazy generation” you hear from many bodies behind desks.

Perhaps, one day, we in Canada can report statistics like software company Jobber’s, stating that 75 percent of the American high school seniors it surveyed reported significant interest in attending schools offering paid, on-the-job training. Apprenticeships!

Companies have shown no signs on their mission to ride the technology tsunami. We are in a new industrial revolution and, if the tech is to keep coming, so will the youth…right?! The question we need to answer now—do we wait for that day and see, or take action today.

The post TREND IN THE TRADES appeared first on Collision Repair Magazine.


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