A few weeks back, I sat in an Advisory Committee meeting at a local Tech School. Over the years, I've sat on many committee's that are very similar to this but this particular meeting struck a nerve. Not because they were doing anything different but because much of it still seems focused on checking a box rather than doing what was necessary to make an impact.
To give you a bit of a backstory, this particular program was so popular that it continuously had a waiting list of students coming in. I believe that they had a capacity of around 20 students each year and they would not only fill those slots but have a waiting list of another half dozen. This year, for that same class, they had 6. 6!!! Want to know where our problem starts…look at those numbers!
Back to the meeting itself. It was a traditionally run meeting with the meeting being called to order, followed by a review of the prior meetings minutes and then diving into the meeting agenda. They did a wonderful job at running us through their curriculum, discussed some of the changes they were recommending and asked for feedback. This part of the meeting is completely necessary and was really great to understand where we stood at.
My frustration with the meeting came in that there was a gigantic elephant in the room that I didn't feel we were spending enough time on. How in the hell did the enrollment drop off that much? Was the school not doing their job in recruiting or talking with high school students? Was the curriculum not preparing students for real world work? I've been closely associated with this school for many, many years and I can confidently say that they are doing their job. They are one of the better run schools that I've had the privilege to see and I can honestly say that they were doing everything right.So, where does the problem come from? In my opinion, it comes from the industry as a whole. I use the analogy of a Dealership Salesperson and their relationship with a Service Manager. In my experience, a Service Manager is generally pretty suspicious of a Salesman when they enter the Service Office. In the back of their minds, they are wondering, "What in the hell does he want now?". From my experience, a Salesman wasn't typically dropping in to see how your day is going…they normally needed something. It sets a tense tone to the conversation from the start and I don't feel like either side really trusts the other because of it.
Now, take that same conversation and think about a shops relationship with their local Tech School. It feels eerily similar to that Salesperson/Service Manager relationship, no? From what I see, most shops will only reach out to a school when they need something and then complain when the school can't deliver. School Instructors generally have a pretty good idea of what a shop is looking for when they call. Typically, they aren't calling just to see how things are at the school (where did I mention that before?). In this current business client, with the shortage of Technicians and Mechanics available, this needs to change.
During the meeting, I mentioned that I felt the need for the businesses in our industry to do more. We have to stop the cycle of only being involved with the schools when we need them. This doesn't solve anything and puts a bunch of pressure on schools to do the recruiting themselves. In my opinion, I'd rather have an instructor focused on developing a solid curriculum focused on staying up to date with current technology than have them out recruiting students. I understand that's a part of their job but we, as an industry, could make this part easier on them.
Even those shops that attend the quarterly meetings…I'm sorry but it's not enough. I've been guilty of attending these meetings, being really excited about what I heard and then doing absolutely nothing about it. We have to do more.
On the flipside, I feel like schools need to be more transparent about what they need from us. Schools can't continue to rely on repetitive meeting formats aimed at checking a box when there is an issue that is screaming for attention. We need to have open and candid conversations aimed at addressing and changing issues. Be honest. Where do you currently stand as a program? Are you worried about state funding because of lack of enrollment? Are you lacking tools needed to teach the latest technology? If enrollment is off, why is that and how do we help? Need shops to attend a recruiting event with you? SPEAK UP!
We've got a lot of talented people in this industry. Having candid conversations between all of these smart people is necessary. There is no way that a well run school should lack in students. In some ways, I feel like we need to stop beating around the bush and hit this thing head on. Enough talk. Let's do something.
To conclude, I challenge each and every one of you shop owner/managers to take a good look at what you're doing to make this better. Reach out to your local Tech school and ask them how you can help out. Can you put together a scholarship program for somebody entering the program? Can you attend a trade show or introduce them to somebody at your local High School? Take some time to reflect on what you're doing to make this better.
Take this challenge seriously as the future talent of our industry depends on it.