New training school could help fill auto tech shortage in Pittsburgh area

PITTSBURGH — If you’ve tried to get your car serviced, you might have been surprised at how long the wait is to get in.

Seemingly every person inside Shults Ford service department in Harmarville is busy fixing a car.

“Transmissions, electrical, maybe air conditioning — that’s where we kind of have a backlog, said Joseph Thurby, chairman of Greater Pittsburgh Auto Dealers and the Neighborhood Ford Store.

So he says that when you call to make an appointment to get your car in, it now takes a week or two weeks to get it in. They used to be able to get you in the same day.

It all depends on how many technicians they have working. Which isn’t as many as Thurby would like to have.

He says there’s a shortage of auto techs at all of the 80 Neighborhood Ford Stores in the region.

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of our technicians retire. In fact, we have 30,000 retiring a year and only 10,000 coming into the market,” said Thurby.

The pandemic has only made the problem worse, but not in the same way as other industries.

While many businesses had to close or lay off workers, Shelley Virag, service assistant manager at Shults Ford, says the techs has never stopped working for a day. Because in Pennsylvania, they were deemed “essential” during the early shutdowns in 2020.

Over the last two years, Virag has watched service wait times grow. She says more people are getting more work done to their older cars instead of buying new cars because of the microchip shortage.

“Now that I’m in the recruiting side of it, I see it tenfold that we need technicians,” said Virag, who started her career as an auto technician.

At the three Shults Ford dealerships in our area, there are 56 auto techs. The dealerships have openings for 12 more.

“We are trying to get as many technicians into the workforce as quickly as possible,” said Chris Barton, campus director at NVI Blairsville.

To do that, Barton has helped to open up NVI Blairsville. It’s a technical school in Indiana County that started in January 2022. It offers six-month automotive and diesel technician programs.

“A student can come in with no skills in the automotive industry and go to work and start their career and start making money,” said Barton.

Chris says the median salary for an auto tech is $50,000 a year.

Brandon Patterson is one of two students in the first NVI class.

“I’m loving it,” said Patterson. “Good instructors, good facility, definitely a lot to learn in a little bit of time.”

It’s an intensive class that runs eight hours a day, five days a week.

“I’d like to as quick as possible, get back into a job, get back to normal life,” said Patterson. “Being that I’m a family man, I don’t exactly have 2 years to give to traditional schooling.”

“Frankly, graduates can be picky,” said Barton. “The easy part of all of this right now is that there are plenty of employers who can’t wait to hire technicians.”

“And we want to get young people with these people that have been in the business a long time, these senior masters technicians, to be able to train the young people,” said Virag.

The new employees will have plenty of opportunities to move up into a senior, master technician position, Virag says.

“I love to bring new people into the industry and help them have careers and take care of their families,” she said.