The education system in the United States is facing a brutal crisis as schools grapple with a severe shortage of teachers. According to recent studies, 9 in 10 public schools struggled to hire instructors for the current school year. Unfortunately, career and technical education (CTE), automotive, and diesel programs are no exception.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 28 states and territories have reported CTE teacher shortages in 2023-24. On top of that, on average, CTE teachers are older than the broader public teacher workforce, with 12.7% of them aged 60 or older, compared to 7.9% overall.
Between the struggle to hire CTE instructors combined with the aging population of existing instructors, the outlook for the instructor shortage is not good. This is not just a staffing problem; it’s a crisis that could have far-reaching consequences for educators, students, and the automotive and diesel industry.
In this article, we will dive into the causes of the instructor shortage, explore its impact on the automotive and diesel industry, and discuss ways in which shops and dealerships can help lessen the impact.
Why Is There an Instructor Shortage?
The scarcity of automotive, diesel, and CTE instructors is a complex issue rooted in various challenges. To narrow our focus, we asked several automotive and diesel instructors what their thoughts were on the issue. For this article, we will focus on the common themes in their responses.
An overwhelming majority of instructors we spoke to mentioned pay as the most important issue that needs to be addressed.
“Schools must increase entry-level pay and the model for career advancement. The model used in the secondary and post-secondary system today assumes a teacher starts their career in their early 20s and works in the same field until retirement. This is not the career path for most automotive instructors. Many technicians, who would make great instructors, cannot afford the decrease in take-home wages.”
Curt Ward, Professor, Joliet Junior College
The average entry-level salary for teachers in the United States is $43,309 with the median annual wage for high school teachers being $62,360, and the average salary for technical/trade school instructors being $69,050.
Shockingly, teachers earn 24% less than comparable college graduates, a pay gap that has grown over time, and that can inhibit people from choosing to become teachers and staying in the profession.
While the salary potential for instructors may be there as they advance their careers, it is clear that entry-level salaries need to be reassessed—particularly for automotive and diesel instructors who really require a fair amount of field experience before they can provide the best possible education for their students.
“A desirable candidate is someone that has enough actual work experience to be relevant with today’s highly technical equipment and use their experience in the classroom. Typically, the pool of potential candidates with enough actual work experience only has an associate degree or lower education to start their career. The candidates who have the educational degree usually are lacking in the actual hands-on work experience. To find a candidate with both, will demand a higher salary, if a person is to make the switch into education. Higher than what most institutions are willing to pay entry-level CTE instructors.”
Tom Wozniak, Diesel Technology Instructor, Madison College
Insufficient Classroom Support
Another issue that was brought up several times by instructors was insufficient support in the classroom. A recent study found that more than half of teachers do not feel supported, and one in four has considered quitting as a result.
The lack of adequate resources, whether it be teaching assistants, modern teaching tools, training, or administrative support, places an overwhelming burden on educators and compromises the education of students.
This is even more true for automotive and diesel programs. It’s no secret—running an automotive or diesel program is not cheap and requires a lot of expensive equipment as compared to other programs. Not only does having inadequate equipment make it difficult to properly teach students, but it also affects enrollment.
“School districts must understand that an auto or diesel shop is expensive. Poor equipment in the shop will turn away many who want to enter the program.”
Randy Golding, Automotive Instructor, West-MEC
The Impact of the Instructor Shortage on the Automotive & Diesel Industry
Clearly, there’s a problem in that there aren’t enough good instructors to go around, but this isn’t just a problem that’s affecting the educational system. This is a dire issue that directly impacts shops and dealerships.
One of the most obvious consequences of the instructor shortage is the inability to meet the increasing demands for skilled automotive and diesel technicians. When there aren’t enough instructors and existing instructors aren’t getting the support they need to run successful auto and diesel programs, enrollment numbers plummet and the education of students is compromised.
For shops and dealerships, this means a decrease in the number of technicians entering the industry AND a decrease in the skill level of the technicians that do enter the industry. The automotive and diesel industry, which has already been facing a technician shortage for decades, simply cannot afford for this to happen.
“One of the best ways to reduce the technician shortage is to grow or maintain the auto and truck programs we currently have. One instructor will influence a generation of entry-level techs. Your tax dollars are paying for these programs and if they disappear because there is no one to step in and teach, not a good use of your money. We all know someone who is either in their senior years of their career or wants to pass on their skills to others. Let’s assist them to either extend their careers or assist them with possible part-time positions as instructors. There are many recourses to assist individuals what making that transition and acquire those skills to be a educator. This is the best investment you can make in our future.”
George Arrants, Vice President, ASE Education Foundation
3 Ways Shops & Dealerships Can Help Lessen the Impact of the Instructor Shortage
Fixing the instructor shortage is no easy task and is going to call upon many different groups to formulate policy changes, recruitment initiatives, retention strategies, and more. But that doesn’t mean those working in the automotive and diesel industry should sit around and do nothing in the meantime.
There are several ways that shops and dealerships can help lessen the impact of the instructor shortage starting immediately:
1. Donate equipment, tools, and vehicles to local auto or diesel programs.
Chances are there are old engines, unused tools, or even vehicles around the shop that could be put to better use at a local school. WrenchWay makes it easy for shops by allowing them to list resources available for donation on their platform, where they partner with over 600 auto and diesel programs nationwide.
Additionally, organizations like The Hourglass Foundation are helping (and incentivizing) shops to present vehicle donations as an option to their customers.
“We have created a program in which shop owners hang our flyer or encourage their customers whose vehicle has seen better days to donate their vehicle. This is a win-win for both shops and vehicle owners. While the vehicle may be done for the road, it can still help educate students who are pursuing auto tech and other skilled trades. They can be a changemaker for students!”
Janet Smail, Executive Director The Hourglass Foundation
2. Help instructors supplement their curriculum.
Shops and dealerships can help instructors out with their curriculum in a number of ways:
- Offer up shop tours as a field trip for students
- Visit a classroom as a guest speaker (or send some of your technicians)
- Participate in job fairs
- Offer work-based learning opportunities to students (i.e., job shadowing, internships, mentorships, etc.)
- Regularly attend advisory committee meetings and give input on the curriculum
These things don’t have to require a lot of effort on the part of shops and dealerships, and they can have a lasting effect on students while taking some of the load off of instructors.
3. Offer continuing education to instructors.
Many shops and dealerships recognize the value of keeping their technicians up-to-date with the latest technology and trends through regular training opportunities. To extend this support to instructors, shops can take a proactive approach by inviting them to participate in these training sessions as well.
By integrating instructors into these trainings, shops not only provide them with valuable insights into industry developments, but also foster a collaborative learning environment. In doing so, shops actively contribute to closing the knowledge gap and ensuring that instructors, technicians, and future technicians are staying on top of this ever-evolving industry.
A Call-to-Action for Shops & Dealerships: Make Schools a Priority Today, Not Tomorrow
The instructor shortage is a serious concern that directly impacts the growth and sustainability of the automotive and diesel industry. While a solution is going to require some pretty big systemic changes, shops, and dealerships have a unique opportunity to make an impact by actively engaging with local schools.
By establishing partnerships, providing resources, and supporting educational initiatives, shops and dealers can play a pivotal role in nurturing the next generation of skilled technicians while taking some strain off of our valued instructors.
The most important thing shops can do? Don’t wait—do something NOW to help automotive and diesel programs. They’re struggling, and when they struggle, our entire industry suffers.
If you are an instructor looking to connect with local shops and dealerships near you to better your auto or diesel program check out WrenchWay’s free solutions for schools.