HCC program helps fill need for auto mechanics

Many students in Hillsborough Community College's automotive technology program end up with part-time jobs before they graduate. 
Peyton Wooton works at Courtesy KIA of Brandon. 

"I pretty much go straight from here to work,” he told FOX 13 while at HCC. “So I'll work there about 6 hours a day."

Program manager Mario Mirabal said repair-shop managers hire them part-time in hopes of keeping them on board after graduation as full-time technicians. 

Why are they so anxious? It's because the United States is in the middle of an auto mechanic crisis. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the industry needs an average of 76,000 new employees every year for the next decade to offset demands for new openings. 

HCC students work on the campus public safety vehicles

"I cannot fill the amount of jobs that the industry asks of me," Mirabal said. 

He said it’s a shortage driven by an emphasis on college education and away from vo-tech training. 

"I think as a society, we are probably not putting as much focus on vocational careers as we should," Mirabal explained. 

Wooton, a Durant High graduate, said his high school, and many others, don't even offer automotive classes anymore. 

"My experience was pretty much working in my own front yard, taking an engine apart with my grandfather to putting something back inside of a car," he recalled.

Also contributing to the shortage is older mechanics who are close to retirement and turned off by newer technology. Mirabal said many have no interest in re-training.

He believes one more factor is at play: an archaic pay structure. Technicians are flat-rate, meaning they get paid based on how long a job is supposed to take, not how long it actually takes.

Mirabal said it can be a frustrating system to new technicians.  

"The whole industry should look at their pay structure first off,” he said. “It has to be done. At some point you have to say, ‘Okay, what is driving techs away from this career field?’"

But there is good news for talented technicians who push through. Dealer competition works in the job hunter's favor. 

"I think manufacturers and dealerships will try to incentivize technicians,” Mirabel said. “I know of dealerships in the area who have already done things like sign-on bonuses and vehicle allowances.”

He said the starting salary for a new technician is between $12 and $16 an hour. For an experienced technician, the salary tops out around $28 an hour. 

HCC's automotive program boasts a 100 percent job placement rate for those graduates looking for employment. 

LINK: Learn more about HCC's automotive technology program by clicking here.

HCC students work on the campus public safety vehicles