MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Trained automobile technicians must be feeling a bit like professional athletes.
So in demand are their services that some employers in Mobile are offering sign-on bonuses.
Eastern Shore Toyota, for instance, is offering bonuses of $3,000 for qualified mechanics and $8,000 for master technicians. Those jobs pay up $30 an hour.
Subaru of Mobile is offering sign-on bonuses starting at $1,000 – and as high as $10,000. Greg Halliday, a sales manager at the firm, said it can be a lucrative career. He said the best, most experienced auto techs can make close to – if not exceed – six-figure salaries.
“It’s kind of hard to explain why, but it really has been difficult to find qualified individuals that are willing to come in and get started,” he told FOX10 news. “And we’re trying to do everything we can to make it easier for them to get that start.”
Halliday said it has long been a challenge but that it has gotten worse.
“It’s probably been exacerbated by the COVID issues,” he said.
Holden Brant just started working at the company this month. He had been working as a telemarketer but looked to switch careers when he moved to Mobile in June to be closer to his girlfriend, who attends the University of South Alabama.
“I grew up around cars,” he said. “My granddaddy, he owned an automotive shop when I was little. And I just always wanted to work on cars and the opportunity was provided to me to take this job.”
It’s not just a local issue. The TechForce Foundation, the nation’s largest provider of scholarships for people seeking careers in the transportation trades, projected in a report last year that the shortage of auto, diesel and collision techs through 2024 will total 642,000.
Mike Pressendo, the organization’s chief marketing and strategy officer, attributed the shortage to “an outdated stigma that people think these are low-tech, not necessarily rewarding or fulfilling which could not be further from the truth.”
Pressendo told FOX10 News that the shortage will grow because of the large number of older mechanics who will retire. He said that because of technological advances in cars, today’s auto technicians are more like Silicon Valley workers than the grease-stained mechanics of old.
“There’s more code in a Ford F-150 truck today than was on the space shuttle,” he said. “I mean, these are computers on wheels.”
Halliday said the Subaru of Mobile incentive program can take several forms. For instance, new hires might get $1,000 worth of new tools since auto techs generally own their own equipment. Or it can come in the form of cash. Workers get the incentives in installments after they’ve been employed for a certain period of time.
Halliday said pay starts low for new hires with no experience – hourly rates in the $10 to $20 range. But he said the company provides on-the-job training and helps auto techs can certifications and keep up with continuing training.
He said the sign-on bonuses are a new strategy to find people who are “willing to come in and roll their sleeves, get a little dirty.”
Brant, a 24-year-old Savannah, Georgia, native who studied photography in college in Massachusetts before working the telemarketing job, said he could not be happier with his career switch.
“It’s sort of relaxing,” he said. “I’ve always had a natural curiosity of how things work, mechanically. I used to take apart doorknobs when I was a kid; played with Legos a lot. So, I just like the intricacy of the mechanical nature.”
Pressendo said the field has a number of advantages. In addition to the potential for “very, very generous compensation,” he said the job offers a good work-life balance.
“Your job will not get offshored,” he said. “You can – it’s not the kind of job you take your work home. Conversely, people who like solving problems love this kind of work, and there’s tremendous variety for so many people that do not want to be, you know, chained to a desk.”
Halliday said Subaru of Mobile is looking to hire three or four auto techs. Toni Fassbender, the administrative director of Eastern Shore Toyota, told FOX10 News in an email, “We would hire all we could because they are so hard to come by.”
Halliday said it is hard to put a finger on exactly why recruiting has become so difficult or what could alleviate the crunch.
“That’s a $64,000 question,” he said. “When you get the right answer, please let me know.”