NEW YORK, NY - Nowhere is the need for a dealership training facility more acute than in the Northeast, say members of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association.

Accordingly, the association wants to build a 90,000-sq.-ft. training and education center for prospective dealership employees and existing staff. Those include service technicians, sales people and office workers.

The proposed center would include a simulated dealership, service bay training labs, meeting rooms, an auditorium, library, computer-equipped classrooms and a broadcast studio.

Plans are to build the state-of-the-art structure on seven acres which the association has purchased next to its Whitestone, Queens, headquarters.

"The idea is to bring students into the automotive industry, and to provide dealerships with qualified personnel," says Colleen Morrissey, association president and president of Morrissey Pontiac-GMC in Rockville Centre, NY.

She adds, "There's a lack of knowledge about what our industry can mean to people and the great career opportunities that are available.

"We'd like to educate and train people to enter the industry because one of the problems we face as dealers is not having enough well-trained and knowledge people."

That's especially true of service technicians. The U.S. Department of Labor pegs the current annual shortfall at 60,000 trained technicians. That could rise to 100,000 in 2003, predicts the labor department.

More than 1,000 dealerships operate in the tri-state region. They employ more than 50,000 people and sell more than 700,000 cars a year.

Annual staffing needs in the region include 3,000 new dealership sales people, 2,000 new office workers and 3,000 new service and parts employees, according to the dealer association.

"There's a big turnover in the industry, and the training center would be beneficial because it's often easier to train someone without prior experience," says Ms. Morrissey, a second generation dealer.

As yet, the association has no firm cost estimates nor a construction timetable for the proposed center.

"It's probably three years down the line before we actually build it," says Ms. Morrissey.

The New York dealer association is looking for funding support from the auto industry in general, including manufacturers and suppliers.

"We feel that with industry support we can get this off and running and really open up a new world to young people," says Ms. Morrissey. "We have not really promoted dealerships as a career opportunity for the future."

The facility would recruit and train entry-level dealership employees as well as offer on-going training to existing personnel.

It would also expose dealership management to the latest in product introductions and new technologies.

The proposal calls for every laboratory, classroom and meeting room to be outfitted with industry-specific equipment, says Mark Schienberg, association vice president.

"What makes this center different is that it will serve as a model dealership to train students in an environment that will allow for real world learning experiences," he says.

The center would be made available for high school and community college automotive technology training programs.

The association also plans to work with various government agencies and job placement organizations interested in preparing people for dealership careers.

"Recruiting and training qualified technicians is critical to our ability to continue to provide the highest quality service available," says National Automobile Dealers Association Chairman James A. Willingham. "We must find new ways to bring the best and brightest into this business."

Ms. Morrissey says if it works in New York, such training centers could be built all over the country.

The proposed center would be the second largest dealership educational facility in the U.S. The first is Northwood Institute in Midland, MI.

Dealer Douglas Callahan, president of Helms Bros. Inc, Bayside, NY, chairs a building committee the association established for the project.

Dealer Carol St. John-Lopez, dealer principal of Honda City, Levittown, NY, chairs the association's education advisory committee.