With thousands of area kids heading off to college, what if you could be guaranteed that you would get a job after graduating?
That’s the reality for future auto body technicians.
Even with near 100 percent job placement, the industry is still struggling to find workers.
21-year-old Jordan Bitterman stands out at work. Not just because of his excitement on the job, but also because he’s a few decades younger than most of the other auto body technicians.
“They need people. There’s no one going into it,” Bitterman said
In fact, the auto industry will be short an estimated 100,000 body technicians over the next five to six years.
“Fewer people are going into it, and even the people who go into it, if you have a class of 20 and they go through the course for two years, the people who actually follow through and go into our industry is very small,” Pierre’s Body Shop Owner Dean Van Heerde said.
Southeast Tech is trying to lure more students into the field by building up its program. Its new collision repair and refinish lab will open to students next week.
“We’ve gone from about 18,000 square feet to 33,000 square feet,” Ron Burchatz, collision repair and refinish instructor at Southeast Tech, said.
Burchatz says several students also receive Dakota Build scholarships where they get all of their tuition and fees paid for. As far as job placement? It’s 100 percent.
“Body shops call me every day looking for technicians. It doesn’t matter if they’re already placed in a business. They’re like, ‘Can you talk to this person?’ I can’t do that, and take them away from a business. There’s such a high demand for our technicians,” Burchatz said.
Despite the work to get more into the field, business owners are concerned that it might not be enough.
“I worry about the future. I worry about my business in the future. We’ll be just fine. I know we will, but there are industry changes. It’s harder to find help. It’s more technical. You need more equipment to stay in the business and do it correctly,” Van Heerde said.
Obstacles for those who are used to fixing problems.