The technology in cars becomes more complex each year. A basic compact car comes packed with electronics. Luxury models are rolling communication devices.  Finding the right people to service these vehicles is an ongoing struggle for dealerships.

“There is a real shortage of automotive technicians,” says Gary Upton, supervisor of the Toyota Express Maintenance Program at Toyota of Orange in Southern California. “This business is getting very technical.”

To help solve the tech-shortage problem, several local dealership associations and dealerships themselves have formed partnerships with community colleges to turn out the type of service technicians needed.

Today’s service tech is far from the grease monkey of days past. Up to 50 computers are in one vehicle, Upton says. Technicians work with scan tools, essentially laptop computers that diagnose vehicle problems.

“Everything is electrical and electronic,” says Upton who started working on Toyotas in 1980.

His dealership partners with Cypress College, a local community college, to train technicians. The school offers certification in Toyota’s program, Technician Training & Technical Network, or T-TEN.

The program aims to meet the “explosive” need for service techs at Toyota’s 1,500 dealerships, says Rick Lester, technician-development manager at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

Collaborating schools agree to a rigorous program that includes hands-on training and internships, he says.

At Toyota of Orange, students work in Upton’s Express Maintenance area, doing oil changes, tire rotations and other light maintenance. “We are teaching them good habits,” Upton says.

Most of his techs have college degrees at some level, he says. “We promote college education.”

Toyota of Orange belongs to the Orange Country Automotive Dealers Assn., which starts even earlier in tech training.

“We work very closely with high schools that offer technical programs,” says Kim McPhaul, the association’s manager-member services.

The OCADA actively markets the California New Car Dealers Assn.’s foundation scholarship program for training at those schools. Last year, $52,000 in scholarships went to 70 students in Orange County.  

The Central Florida Auto Dealers Assn. has gone a step further. It built its own tech-training center at a local community college. The CFADA Professional Automotive Training Center at Seminole State College in Sanford, FL, is housed in a $10.4 million, 55,000-sq.-ft. (5,109-sq.-m) facility that includes a 19,200-sq.-ft. 1,784-sq.-m) shop with 33 lifts.

It opened in 2007 after a 10-year fund raising effort.

“It is no secret in the industry that we have a tremendous shortage of service technicians,” says Barbara A. Miller, the CFADA’s executive vice president who helped spearhead the effort.

The center offers a 2-year degree, 1-year certification program and training for specific auto manufacturers including General Motors and Ford.

The CFADA visits local high schools to recruit students. Miller says she wishes more auto industry participants would help get the word out about job opportunities as service technicians.

 “The automotive industry is the best kept secret,” she says