New Jersey needs more people who can fix cars, and Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers is helping to train thousands of individuals to do the work. His organization received a $907,000 grant to the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development to support its Automotive Technician Apprenticeship Program.
“We spent quite a bit of time in the field before we even applied for the grant talking to service directors finding out what their pain points are and what they needed,” Appleton said. “It is providing us with an opportunity to get us started. We are confident that we are getting something started here that will continue to have a long-standing effect. This is not a one-and-done. The fact that the grant was there and we had real encouragement from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development was there was a real need.”
Appleton said it takes six months to two years for a “technically inclined” individual to be launched on a career path. “We are providing them with a base level that will allow them to get on the rung and help them progress,” he explained. “For the professionals who acquire these skills, it is a very portable job, which is part of the problem we have in New Jersey.”
All apprentices in ATAP will work for dealerships and the dealerships can apply for GAINS grant reimbursement through NJCAR) for training and education, Appleton said.
The ATAP is recruiting students from high school technical training programs, county vocational programs, local communities, veterans associations and existing dealership personnel. It will enroll at least 150 apprentices in the first year and pay them a minimum wage of $15 per hour, said NJCAR director of automotive workforce development Breanna Datello Esquilin. The apprentices do not pay to be in the program, she said.
The apprenticeship program is 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of related technical instruction.
“Our apprenticeship program starts you off at $15 per hour no matter how advanced you are in the field or if you’re new,” Esquilin said. “Based on how fast your skills grow within our apprenticeship program is how fast you advance.”
The main barrier NJCAR encounters is that New Jersey enrolls only 1,200 high school students in vocational technical high schools, Esquilin said. “There are not as many students going into career and technical education for automotive,” she said. “At the end, there are fewer people graduating and continuing on the careers in that industry.”
The organization is looking to address this shortage by promoting the benefits of a career in auto technology, attracting more job seekers to the industry and training them through the Automotive Technician Apprenticeship Program.
Richard Malouf Jr. is the vice president of Malouf Cadillac and Chevrolet in North Brunswick. He serves on the NJCAR board of directors.
“When Breanna and New Jersey CAR was developing this [apprenticeship program,] she asked for help from dealers who would like to be involved,” Malouf said. “We know there is a massive shortage of technicians. We feel it personally every day. It is hard to hire people, whether they are well-trained or not. We really do not have many prospects coming into our doors that can take up our lift space. If you are one, two, three technicians short, your business suffers greatly. Customers suffer. When your cars cannot be worked on and fixed in a timely manner, customers do not care. They want their cars to be fixed.”
His service director, Jerry O’Rourke, started an in-house training program in February 2019. Malouf said he brings in qualified people and hires them.
“NJCAR is to polish what we have,” O’Rourke said. “There comes a point where an investment has to be made in education and theory. … NJCAR’s grant in working with secondary education is where teaching that theory, teaching that brake theory, that suspension theory that form of education that we cannot give. We can only reinforce what he is taught.”
O’Rourke said the NJCAR apprenticeship program offers an alternative to an automotive trade school that costs $40,000 to $60,000 per year.
“Most high school graduates do not follow those careers because of the costs of education,” O’Rourke said.
One of his employees is Ed Farnish, a 2017 graduate of Middlesex County Vocational School District in East Brunswick. Farnish learned about Malouf because his grandparents took their car to Malouf Cadillac.
Farnish is learning about safety associated with lifting cars, using tools properly, learning brakes and suspensions of vehicles. He used to work on tractors on a farm.
Farnish hopes to learn as much as possible at Malouf to advance his career.
“If you cannot diagnose a car, you cannot fix it,” Farnish said.
O’Rourke explained that NJCAR is filling in that void by providing theory training.
“He needs that next jump-start in that apprenticeship program to take him to that next level,” O’Rourke said. “That is the void that is missing. That is where NJ CAR is going to fill in that void.”
The New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers represents about 510 new car dealerships in New Jersey. The industry accounts for $36.1 billion in vehicle, service and parts sales and directly employs nearly 39,000 people in New Jersey.