In 2019, businesses in the aftermarket sector employed approximately 491,800 Canadians, accounting for nearly 2.9% of total employees in Canada. This is on par with the number of employees in Canada’s mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction, real estate and rental and leasing sectors combined. In 2019, the industry consisted of approximately 48,940 enterprises (24,470 of which are independent auto shops); 86% of those businesses employ less than 10 employees.
Canada’s aftermarket industry faces both new and long-standing workforce challenges; intelligent vehicles present new workforce challenges, while long-standing challenges related to recruitment and retention persist.
Intelligent vehicles are serviced differently than mechanical vehicles. Because of this, the industry’s current and future workforce needs to be equipped with new skills, and training facilities and workplaces outfitted with new resources.
As a result of the increasingly complexity of vehicles, automotive service technicians, compared with tradespersons from other large Red Seal trades, report the largest impact of technological change in their workplace. More and more, automotive service technicians need to understand how to interact with a vehicle that is software, not mechanically defined. This requires technicians to have, among other things, programming, mathematical, digital communication and information management skills, the skills to use digital tools to identify and resolve problems and the skills to program and set up IP addresses for equipment so that it can communicate wirelessly with other equipment.
Take Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). All new vehicles are equipped with at least one ADAS feature, like motion detection and lane departure warning. Technicians must be able to properly aim and calibrate cameras and sensors outfitted on ADAS-equipped vehicles. A forward facing digital camera that is one degree out of alignment can create an offset that grows to near a foot at 100 yards – a “blind spot” that is big enough for a camera to fail to see a pedestrian or another vehicle.
Technicians at independent auto repair and collision shops will require new resources to service intelligent vehicles. For example, shops need access to specialist calibration and diagnostic tools to service ADAS-equipped vehicles. Training facilities will also require new resources, like zero-emission vehicles, to ensure that the incoming industry workforce receives up-to-date training. A 2020 study by the Conference Board of Canada identified lack of access to up-to-date technology at technical facilities in the industry as an impediment to apprentices acquiring digital skills that are needed to service intelligent vehicles. Furthermore, apprentices pay for their own tools, which are very costly and difficult to finance in the motive power trades. These tools will only get more costly as vehicle technology advances. Without access to the right tools, it will be difficult for apprentices to hone their technical skills that they bring with them to the workplace.
Long-Standing Workforce Challenges
Recruitment and retention are workforce challenges that the aftermarket industry has persistently faced. A 2019 study by J.D. Power for AIA Canada identified “finding skilled labour, particularly technicians” as the number one challenge facing independent auto shops across Canada. Additional insights obtained from the study include:
- Shops perceive incompetence among vehicle technicians; they seek “quality” and “qualified” workers.
- Shops struggle with a tight labour market because there are not enough technicians coming down the pipeline.
- Shops workforce recruitment challenges are exacerbated because new vehicles, including intelligent and zero-emission, demand new skills.
Increasing retirements, coupled with decreasing apprenticeship registrations, make getting non-traditional workers into the trades a timely need. Canada’s trade’s workforce is aging at a faster pace relative to the workforce with a university degree. Meanwhile, the number of new apprenticeship registrations has declined in recent years. The retirement of older tradespeople and the resulting decline in the labour force participation rate are expected to exacerbate labour shortages in the automotive sector. This creates challenges for recruitment and retention. There will be greater competition among employers to recruit workers from a smaller pool of workers and workers will have more opportunities available to them to jump ship.
An analysis of 2016 census data shows that the aftermarket industry, like other skilled trades industries, lacks diversity. A persistent lack of diversity among the aftermarket industry’s workforce creates recruitment and retention challenges. The 2016 analysis shows that close to 31% of the aftermarket workforce self-identified as female. Close to 22% of the workforce was foreign-born, while 5% identified as Aboriginal. Attracting more diverse workers to the industry will mitigate the impacts of increasing retirements and declining apprenticeship registrations. Furthermore, when a workplace is diverse, it helps employers to retain diversity in the workplace. Thus, diversity supports diversity.
Stigma surrounds a career in the skilled trades and influences people’s decisions as to whether they should pursue a career in the skilled trades. For stigma to be addressed, parents, educators and young people need to hear about how the skilled trades are transforming and the benefits and opportunities that careers in the trades offer. Changing the perception of parents is critical as parents shape the tastes and expectations of their dependents. If traditional perceptions of the trades are maintained by parents, it is likely that the stigma associated with a career in the skilled trades will influence young people’s perception of the trades.
The aftermarket industry faces numerous workforce challenges, some new and some that are long-standing. What follows are just some of the solutions available to mitigate these challenges.
Micro-credentials offer a new approach to training and certification that can meet the industry’s future workforce skills needs. Micro-credentials are a type of certification that recognize more granular competencies than a degree or an apprenticeship. Micro-credentials are “certification-style qualifications that improve a specific skill found in a particular industry area.” They can be used for apprenticeship training, post-certification upskilling or to recognize workers with specific technical skills without a certification of qualification. Micro-credentials are short-term, low-cost and can be offered online. Micro-credentials are extremely relevant to the automotive industry as they can keep pace with the fast-paced introduction of new vehicle technology, enabling workers to become proficient in it.
The success of apprentices acquiring up-to-date skills is partly dependent on the capabilities of those who train them –both in the classroom and on-the-job training. With technology changing dramatically nearly every year, continuous, lifelong learning is essential to keep trainers current with critical information. Possible solutions include connecting training facilities with external industry groups to promote professional development and having trainer’s complete micro-credentials. Businesses can also connect with others in their region to organize group educational sessions that are less costly and more accessible to tradespeople.
Government subsidies, both federal and provincial/territorial, can help businesses and training facilities procure the resources, including tools, equipment and software, that are needed to service new vehicles. Subsidies are necessary given the excessive cost of these resources that need to interact with advanced technology. A single agency, such as a government ministry, could facilitate the transaction of subsidies. Increased subsidization of tools required by apprentices would also be beneficial.
A 3-pronged communication strategy directed at parents, educators and young people that conveys the new reality of the trades and the benefits and opportunities that comes from a career in the trades, could help reduce the stigma associated with a career in the skilled trades and attract non-traditional groups to the industry. A communication strategy could include the use of social media (for example, short videos that demonstrate new technology used in skilled trade workplaces) and updated skills taxonomy (particularly important for educators).
Small and medium-sized enterprises form the backbone of the aftermarket industry. The aftermarket consists of approximately 48,940 enterprises, 86% of which have fewer than 10 employees. Government can better help employers to recruit and retain apprentices and workers by offering incentives and financial supports that are specifically targeted and designed for small businesses. Less paperwork and less burdensome processes for sponsoring apprentices and accessing government supports would also benefit small businesses in their recruitment and retention efforts.