Supply and demand is a real challenge at Northtown Automotive - and we're not talking about the vehicles.
Like at most auto dealerships, there is major demand for automotive technicians.
"If we had 25 technicians that applied right now we'd probably hire them all," said Therese Thibault, Northtown Employee Development Director.
Thibault cites a number of reasons as to why there is such a demand for automotive technicians, chief among them is that there are not enough new techs to replace the growing number of retirement-eligible workers.
"So as technicians start to filter out of the workforce and go into retirement, we need students to fill those needs," Thibault said.
That's why a number of the region's dealerships have partnered with Erie 1 BOCES for co-op internship programs. BOCES offers an automotive technician training program for high school students, which is immersed in partnering high schools' curricula.
But the stigma associated with pursuing the trades versus a four-year college degree program is an ongoing struggle that has a bruising impact on the auto tech skills pipeline, according to Erie 1 BOCES CTE Specialist Lori Smith.
"It's been there for years. [The belief] that the less capable student, the academically challenged student is more likely to go to BOCES, and that's not the case," Smith said.
Advocates for skilled trades argue that students who specialize in a trade through Career and Technical Education have a leg-up on their peers because they're learning a skilled trade and getting job experience in their desired field, which makes them more employable candidates.
"It's really more a jumpstart on the career," Smith said.
In an effort to help BOCES and other trades recruit more students and build a pipeline of skilled trades workers, New York State is offering a grant program called "P-Tech" - or Pathways in Technology Early College High School. The program combines high school, college, and career training, free of charge to the student.
Erie 1 BOCES received a $3 million P-Tech grant focused on automotive technology, in partnership with SUNY Erie, according to Smith. Now in its second year of P-Tech, BOCES collaborates with Lackawanna, Frontier, Hamburg, and West Seneca School Districts to recruit middle school students into the program, which they begin in their freshman year of high school.
"They are getting that career exploration of both auto tech and auto body repair. And so when they start to accrue the college credit with SUNY Erie, they're going to be able to obtain their college credit sooner, through high school, and by twelfth grade they're going onto SUNY Erie's campus, into [the college's] program," Smith said.
For the 2019/2020 school year, BOCES has room for 35 students, and still has a few seats to fill.