By Ronnie Wendt
In a recent conversation with my 27-year-old son, Casey, he commented that he wished high schools did a better job of telling students about opportunities in the trades. He said if they had, he wouldn’t be attending tech school now after getting a different degree earlier.
“No one told me I could make a living as a mechanic or an electrician or a plumber,” he said.
My 30-year-old son-in-law, Joe, has a different story. His high school offered an alternative education program through Briggs & Stratton. It was in this program he learned to work with engines. This young man is now employed as an auto- motive technician—and a good one at that—because long ago someone pointed him in the right direction for his interests.
These stories made me wonder how many young people hear about the RV industry and its growing need for RV technicians in high school. How how many young people miss out on an opportunity as an RV service tech because they do not know the opportunity exists?
Kevin Ketner, vice president of Ancira RV in Boerne, Texas, recently expressed his concerns, saying:“In many cases, they [young people] have no idea what the pay rates are, they have no idea what the benefits packages could be, and the dif-ferent things they could accomplish. We need to get more people —from trade organizations, to dealers and manufacturers, to private parties—to say, ‘Here’s a great opportunity for a career.’ ”
The RV industry needs to step it up, and soon, adds Terry Cooper of the National RV Academy. As of today, the RV industry has 13,520 techs, but the number of RV-owning households is estimated at 8.9 million. This means the average service technician is responsible for maintaining and servicing an estimated 658 RVs. More are needed, but to fill this gap, young people need to know it exists.
It’s time for the industry to band together to solve a problem reaching critical mass in the RV industry. It will take the efforts of dealers, manufacturers, schools and private entities to make a difference. It will take outreach to get young people into the field, training to teach them what they need to know, and good pay, benefits and company culture to keep them there.
Work has already begun, but Jennifer Maher, CEO/executive director of Tech- Force Foundation, a nonprofit focused on “Driving Tomorrow’s Workforce of Technicians,” suggests more is needed. “No one entity can fix the technician shortage problem. We all must row in the same direction. The big problem right now is that everybody is sitting on the sidelines and waiting for someone to fix the problem, but that isn’t going to happen,” she says.
Though Maher was referring to the trucking industry when she made this comment, the same is true for the RV industry. It’s time to work together for a common goal, or as Cooper warns, this “industry could take a downward spiral, because people will turn to some other form of entertainment. Whether they buy an RV or something else will be determined by how well we service them; how well we take care of our customer.”
But beyond that, doing nothing is a disservice to the young people, like my son, with a passion for working with their hands. Let’s go after these young people and bring them to the open road. There’s no time to waste.