Technician Louie Cafaro at work in the service department at...

Technician Louie Cafaro at work in the service department at North Bay Cadillac Buick GMC in Roslyn. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Jack Weidinger has been trying to hire six more auto technicians at each of his two Long Island car dealerships for more than a year, he said.

“It’s the hardest job to fill and it’s one of the most lucrative that are hardest to fill,” said Weidinger, who said he has raised the pay for the jobs about 50% over the last 10 years.

Most of his technicians have been with him for three to five years, and earn between $60,000 and $100,000 annually, he said.

“I have a handful that make $150,000 to $200,000,” who have been working at the dealership at least 10 years, said Weidinger, who is vice chair of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, which represents 425 new-car dealers.

A nationwide shortage of mechanics began decades ago, partly because high school graduates were increasingly encouraged to pursue four-year college degrees rather than careers in trades, such as auto mechanics or electricians, according to auto repair industry and career development experts.

It will become more acute as older mechanics retire, and advanced technologies that demand new skill sets emerge, experts said.

The staff shortages have meant higher salaries for mechanics, and rising costs and longer wait times for customers seeking car repairs.

Between 2002 and 2022, the number of automotive service technicians and mechanics in New York state declined by 7,260, or 19%, to 30,750, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, the number of vehicles is rising.

In New York state from 2002 to 2022, the number of vehicles in operation rose by 129,266 to reach 11.6 million, according to S&P Global Mobility, an automotive data provider in Southfield, Michigan.

In the next five to 10 years, there will be a massive exodus from the industry as older technicians retire and close their businesses, said Amanda Funk, associate director at the Repair Shops & Gasoline Dealers Association in Albany.

The numbers of students enrolled in automotive service technician and mechanic training programs has begun to rise in recent years, partly as a result of the soaring costs of four-year college degrees spurring people to seek cheaper post-secondary education avenues, but they aren’t increasing fast enough to keep up with the need, industry experts say.

“We basically say, on average over the next five years, we need 117,000 new auto technicians [annually nationwide] to come into the workforce just to keep up with the growth and retirement replacement,” said Jennifer Maher, CEO of TechForce Foundation, a Phoenix-based nonprofit that advocates for technical education and careers.

One result of the shortage is longer wait times for car repairs — from three to four days to much longer than a week now, said Chris Sutton, vice president of automotive retail at J.D. Power.

Between 2021 and March 2023, the number of days customers waited to get appointments increased by 1.9 days for an average total of 5.6 days for luxury vehicles and by 1.3 days for an average total of 4.8 days for non-luxury vehicles, according to a J.D. Power report, which said that loaner vehicle availability and parts shortages also contributed to the longer wait times.

Channi Singh’s 10 auto repair shops are so short of mechanics that he began paying for customers’ Uber rides to and from the shops last year, so they could leave their vehicles overnight — or longer — to wait for the work to be completed.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he had 65 mechanics, which wasn’t enough, but now he has only 55 due to retirements or relocations to Florida or Georgia, where the cost of living is cheaper, he said.

“And … there is no new generation coming into this field anymore,” said Singh, who has three auto repair shops/gas stations on Long Island and seven in New York City.

At Singh’s shops, including Mukti 208 Petroleum in Great Neck, Mukti 360 Petroleum in Rockville Centre and Mukti 77 Petroleum in New Hyde Park, vehicle inspections have gone from taking 30 to 45 minutes to two to three hours because of service backlogs, he said.

Also, auto parts suppliers’ deliveries used to come every half hour. Now, the suppliers are limiting deliveries to two a day because they don’t have the supplies in stock, Singh said.

The median wage for automotive service technicians and mechanics in the New York metro area was $52,800 last year, up 15% from $45,860 in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But those numbers are skewing lower because of the high job turnover rate for entry-level techs, who make less money, said Donna Wagner, vice president of industry and media relations at ASE, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, a Virginia nonprofit that accredits training programs and certifies technicians.

“It’s not unusual for a highly skilled technician to make a six-digit salary,” she said.

Entry-level techs may exit the field early if they don’t see a career path or are not receiving training to advance their skills, she said.

Technicians working at car dealerships have greater earning potential, in part because they are required to be certified by the car brand the dealership sells and they eventually must become certified by ASE.

“We have a built-in business with the brands we represent. The more cars we sell, the more cars that come back into our service department for maintenance and repairs,” said Weidinger, who has 10 auto technicians at his North Bay Cadillac Buick GMC dealership, which has a showroom in Great Neck and service center in Roslyn, and 15 technicians at his Jaguar Land Rover Freeport dealership.

He also owns an auto body repair shop in Hempstead, Vantage Auto Body, where he has seven auto technicians.

If he had more technicians, he could extend his service departments’ hours, reduce customers’ wait times and bring in more business that has been lost to  other dealerships and non-dealership repair shops, he said.

Technicians on his staff cited good pay and varied, challenging work as reasons they like their jobs.

Louie Cafaro, 39, is a factory-authorized Cadillac technician at Weidinger’s Roslyn service center with 15 years of experience. The Queens resident, who earned a degree in automotive technology from Lincoln Tech, a for-profit trade school, always knew he would enter the auto technology field, he said.

“I love working with my hands. I make good money. … I love to come to work,” he said last month while fixing a power running board on a 2019 Cadillac Escalade.

Adam Mirenda, 61, has master technician certifications and is the lead tech for electric and standard vehicles at the dealership, where he has worked for 25 years.

He started working on cars at age 15, when he was employed part-time at a Texaco gas station in Bellmore changing tires and doing other light tasks, he said.

He took auto classes in high school offered through BOCES, and then became an apprentice, said Mirenda, a Centereach resident, who was about to begin fixing a rear camera on a 2023 Cadillac Lyriq.

Being an auto technician has been rewarding for him, he said.

“It’s constantly changing. There is always something new. You can make good money,” said Mirenda, who lamented the decline in auto repair programs in high schools.

One of the main issues in the field of auto technology is outdated views of them being dirty, low-paying jobs that are last-resort careers, so students have been deterred from pursuing training in the industry in favor of more expensive college degrees in white-collar fields, auto industry experts said.

“Parents and [guidance] counselors have a lot of those built-in stigmas and it’s not doing a service for their kids,” said Maher, of the TechForce Foundation.

But today’s cars are more technologically advanced than those of the past and they require technicians who have knowledge in science and technology, she said.

“It’s just a complete game changer … you can’t even replace your windshield without having to recalibrate, so your sensors and your systems continue to be accurate,” Maher said.

There are growing job opportunities in the field and different paths students can take to get there, she said.

“There are a lot of students who can take an auto shop program in high school and depending on the quality of that program, many of them are scooped up by employers right out of high school ... while others would go on to a post-secondary technical education,” she said.

Community colleges typically offer two-year associate degrees or one-year certificate programs in auto technology.

Tuition at community colleges averages $3,990, according to the College Board, a Manhattan-based nonprofit. That compares to $11,260 a year for in-state tuition and fees at a public four-year college — and that rises to $24,030 when the cost of room and board is added.

Students can also enter an apprentice program, said Funk, of the repair shops association. “The program we offer is state-registered, and after a two-year period of paid, on-the-job training, they can be certified ‘journeymen’; that accreditation is valid nationally,” she said.

New York state does not license or certify auto technicians, but those who perform vehicle inspections must be licensed to do so by the New York Department of Motor Vehicles.

Some school districts, such as Brentwood, Longwood, West Islip and East Hampton, have stand-alone auto tech programs. The state Department of Education could not immediately say how many high schools in the state offer auto tech programs.

To respond to the shortage of automotive technicians, the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association built a $30 million, 90,000-square-foot training facility in Whitestone, Queens in 2005. The curriculum is administered by Lincoln Tech.

It was the first facility of its kind built by new-car dealers, said Mark Schienberg, president of the association.

Before COVID, there were about 750 students enrolled. Now there are 600, he said.

The pandemic didn’t just affect enrollment in auto training programs.

It also affected the life choices of people working in the profession, said Scott Benavidez, chairman of the Automotive Service Association, a North Richland Hills, Texas-based nonprofit trade group.

During the pandemic, people learned to live on less, eliminated commutes to work and simplified their lives, so some technicians left repair shops to work on their own — on their own schedules, he said.

“They’ll do two to three jobs in their yard. Instead of making $100,000 a year, they’ll make $60,000 a year,” said Benavidez, 54, who owns a collision repair shop his father founded in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

But there is some reason for optimism that the employment numbers will improve, since there has been growing enrollment in trade school and vocational programs in the past few years.

Enrollment in mechanic and repair technologies/technician majors at two-year colleges increased 8.2% between spring 2022 and spring 2023, to 106,176 students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse in Herndon, Virginia.

Suffolk County Community College has record enrollment for its auto technology program at the Selden campus in this fall semester — 365 applicants for 168 seats, 24 of which were added this semester, said David Macholz, academic chair of automotive technology at the school.

The quality of the applicants has increased in the past few years, and there is renewed interest in automotive careers because the technology is advancing for cars, such as electric and autonomously driving vehicles, he said.

“We’ve gone from something that was highly mechanical in nature and we’re moving to electric power trains and 70, 80, 100 control units on a vehicle that are highly complex and require an advanced skillset to diagnose and repair. There has been more change in the last five years than the previous 30,” he said.

To handle the growth in its auto program, the college is planning to build a new 55,000-square-foot, $25 million automotive facility at its Brentwood campus in the next few years.

The Eastern Suffolk BOCES campuses in Oakdale and Riverhead have 166 high school students enrolled in automotive technology programs this semester, up from 136 last year, said Leah Arnold, director of career, technical and adult education at the educational cooperative.

She believes the growth is fueled by both the quality of the program and changing perceptions about technical education and careers.

“Since COVID, I think people are reconsidering and thinking about the value of a four-year degree vs. a technical education,” she said.

Jack Weidinger has been trying to hire six more auto technicians at each of his two Long Island car dealerships for more than a year, he said.

“It’s the hardest job to fill and it’s one of the most lucrative that are hardest to fill,” said Weidinger, who said he has raised the pay for the jobs about 50% over the last 10 years.

Most of his technicians have been with him for three to five years, and earn between $60,000 and $100,000 annually, he said.

“I have a handful that make $150,000 to $200,000,” who have been working at the dealership at least 10 years, said Weidinger, who is vice chair of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, which represents 425 new-car dealers.

A nationwide shortage of mechanics began decades ago, partly because high school graduates were increasingly encouraged to pursue four-year college degrees rather than careers in trades, such as auto mechanics or electricians, according to auto repair industry and career development experts.

It will become more acute as older mechanics retire, and advanced technologies that demand new skill sets emerge, experts said.

The staff shortages have meant higher salaries for mechanics, and rising costs and longer wait times for customers seeking car repairs.

Between 2002 and 2022, the number of automotive service technicians and mechanics in New York state declined by 7,260, or 19%, to 30,750, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, the number of vehicles is rising.

In New York state from 2002 to 2022, the number of vehicles in operation rose by 129,266 to reach 11.6 million, according to S&P Global Mobility, an automotive data provider in Southfield, Michigan.

In the next five to 10 years, there will be a massive exodus from the industry as older technicians retire and close their businesses, said Amanda Funk, associate director at the Repair Shops & Gasoline Dealers Association in Albany.

The numbers of students enrolled in automotive service technician and mechanic training programs has begun to rise in recent years, partly as a result of the soaring costs of four-year college degrees spurring people to seek cheaper post-secondary education avenues, but they aren’t increasing fast enough to keep up with the need, industry experts say.

“We basically say, on average over the next five years, we need 117,000 new auto technicians [annually nationwide] to come into the workforce just to keep up with the growth and retirement replacement,” said Jennifer Maher, CEO of TechForce Foundation, a Phoenix-based nonprofit that advocates for technical education and careers.

Customer wait times up

One result of the shortage is longer wait times for car repairs — from three to four days to much longer than a week now, said Chris Sutton, vice president of automotive retail at J.D. Power.

Between 2021 and March 2023, the number of days customers waited to get appointments increased by 1.9 days for an average total of 5.6 days for luxury vehicles and by 1.3 days for an average total of 4.8 days for non-luxury vehicles, according to a J.D. Power report, which said that loaner vehicle availability and parts shortages also contributed to the longer wait times.

Channi Singh’s 10 auto repair shops are so short of mechanics that he began paying for customers’ Uber rides to and from the shops last year, so they could leave their vehicles overnight — or longer — to wait for the work to be completed.

Channi Singh at Mukti 77 Petroleum in New Hyde Park,...

Channi Singh at Mukti 77 Petroleum in New Hyde Park, one of 10 repair shops he owns. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he had 65 mechanics, which wasn’t enough, but now he has only 55 due to retirements or relocations to Florida or Georgia, where the cost of living is cheaper, he said.

There is no new generation coming into this field anymore.

— Channi Singh

“And … there is no new generation coming into this field anymore,” said Singh, who has three auto repair shops/gas stations on Long Island and seven in New York City.

At Singh’s shops, including Mukti 208 Petroleum in Great Neck, Mukti 360 Petroleum in Rockville Centre and Mukti 77 Petroleum in New Hyde Park, vehicle inspections have gone from taking 30 to 45 minutes to two to three hours because of service backlogs, he said.

Mechanic and assistant manager Mike Infante working on a car at Mukti 77 Petroleum last month. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Also, auto parts suppliers’ deliveries used to come every half hour. Now, the suppliers are limiting deliveries to two a day because they don’t have the supplies in stock, Singh said.

Mechanics’ pay on the rise

The median wage for automotive service technicians and mechanics in the New York metro area was $52,800 last year, up 15% from $45,860 in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The annual median wage for NY automotive service technicians and mechanics in 2022 was $52,800 up 15% from 2019. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

But those numbers are skewing lower because of the high job turnover rate for entry-level techs, who make less money, said Donna Wagner, vice president of industry and media relations at ASE, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, a Virginia nonprofit that accredits training programs and certifies technicians.

“It’s not unusual for a highly skilled technician to make a six-digit salary,” she said.

Entry-level techs may exit the field early if they don’t see a career path or are not receiving training to advance their skills, she said.

Technicians working at car dealerships have greater earning potential, in part because they are required to be certified by the car brand the dealership sells and they eventually must become certified by ASE.

Jack Weidinger, president of Weidinger Automotive Group, in North Bay...

Jack Weidinger, president of Weidinger Automotive Group, in North Bay Cadillac Buick GMC's customer lounge in Roslyn. Credit: Jeff Bachner

“We have a built-in business with the brands we represent. The more cars we sell, the more cars that come back into our service department for maintenance and repairs,” said Weidinger, who has 10 auto technicians at his North Bay Cadillac Buick GMC dealership, which has a showroom in Great Neck and service center in Roslyn, and 15 technicians at his Jaguar Land Rover Freeport dealership.

He also owns an auto body repair shop in Hempstead, Vantage Auto Body, where he has seven auto technicians.

If he had more technicians, he could extend his service departments’ hours, reduce customers’ wait times and bring in more business that has been lost to  other dealerships and non-dealership repair shops, he said.

Service technician Stanley Rousseau works on a car in the...

Service technician Stanley Rousseau works on a car in the North Bay service department. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Technicians on his staff cited good pay and varied, challenging work as reasons they like their jobs.

Louie Cafaro, 39, is a factory-authorized Cadillac technician at Weidinger’s Roslyn service center with 15 years of experience. The Queens resident, who earned a degree in automotive technology from Lincoln Tech, a for-profit trade school, always knew he would enter the auto technology field, he said.

“I love working with my hands. I make good money. … I love to come to work,” he said last month while fixing a power running board on a 2019 Cadillac Escalade.

Adam Mirenda, 61, has master technician certifications and is the lead tech for electric and standard vehicles at the dealership, where he has worked for 25 years.

Service technician Adam Mirenda at work in the North Bay service department in Roslyn. Credit: Jeff Bachner

He started working on cars at age 15, when he was employed part-time at a Texaco gas station in Bellmore changing tires and doing other light tasks, he said.

He took auto classes in high school offered through BOCES, and then became an apprentice, said Mirenda, a Centereach resident, who was about to begin fixing a rear camera on a 2023 Cadillac Lyriq.

Being an auto technician has been rewarding for him, he said.

You can make good money.

—Adam Mirenda

“It’s constantly changing. There is always something new. You can make good money,” said Mirenda, who lamented the decline in auto repair programs in high schools.

Outdated views hurt

One of the main issues in the field of auto technology is outdated views of them being dirty, low-paying jobs that are last-resort careers, so students have been deterred from pursuing training in the industry in favor of more expensive college degrees in white-collar fields, auto industry experts said.

“Parents and [guidance] counselors have a lot of those built-in stigmas and it’s not doing a service for their kids,” said Maher, of the TechForce Foundation.

But today’s cars are more technologically advanced than those of the past and they require technicians who have knowledge in science and technology, she said.

“It’s just a complete game changer … you can’t even replace your windshield without having to recalibrate, so your sensors and your systems continue to be accurate,” Maher said.

There are growing job opportunities in the field and different paths students can take to get there, she said.

“There are a lot of students who can take an auto shop program in high school and depending on the quality of that program, many of them are scooped up by employers right out of high school ... while others would go on to a post-secondary technical education,” she said.

Mechanic Pardeep Kumar works on a tire at Mukti 77 Petroleum in New Hyde Park. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Community colleges typically offer two-year associate degrees or one-year certificate programs in auto technology.

Tuition at community colleges averages $3,990, according to the College Board, a Manhattan-based nonprofit. That compares to $11,260 a year for in-state tuition and fees at a public four-year college — and that rises to $24,030 when the cost of room and board is added.

Students can also enter an apprentice program, said Funk, of the repair shops association. “The program we offer is state-registered, and after a two-year period of paid, on-the-job training, they can be certified ‘journeymen’; that accreditation is valid nationally,” she said.

New York state does not license or certify auto technicians, but those who perform vehicle inspections must be licensed to do so by the New York Department of Motor Vehicles.

Expanding training options

Some school districts, such as Brentwood, Longwood, West Islip and East Hampton, have stand-alone auto tech programs. The state Department of Education could not immediately say how many high schools in the state offer auto tech programs.

To respond to the shortage of automotive technicians, the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association built a $30 million, 90,000-square-foot training facility in Whitestone, Queens in 2005. The curriculum is administered by Lincoln Tech.

It was the first facility of its kind built by new-car dealers, said Mark Schienberg, president of the association.

Before COVID, there were about 750 students enrolled. Now there are 600, he said.

The pandemic didn’t just affect enrollment in auto training programs.

It also affected the life choices of people working in the profession, said Scott Benavidez, chairman of the Automotive Service Association, a North Richland Hills, Texas-based nonprofit trade group.

During the pandemic, people learned to live on less, eliminated commutes to work and simplified their lives, so some technicians left repair shops to work on their own — on their own schedules, he said.

“They’ll do two to three jobs in their yard. Instead of making $100,000 a year, they’ll make $60,000 a year,” said Benavidez, 54, who owns a collision repair shop his father founded in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

But there is some reason for optimism that the employment numbers will improve, since there has been growing enrollment in trade school and vocational programs in the past few years.

Enrollment in mechanic and repair technologies/technician majors at two-year colleges increased 8.2% between spring 2022 and spring 2023, to 106,176 students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse in Herndon, Virginia.

Suffolk County Community College has record enrollment for its auto technology program at the Selden campus in this fall semester — 365 applicants for 168 seats, 24 of which were added this semester, said David Macholz, academic chair of automotive technology at the school.

The quality of the applicants has increased in the past few years, and there is renewed interest in automotive careers because the technology is advancing for cars, such as electric and autonomously driving vehicles, he said.

Mechanic Marlon Ayala repairs a car at Mukti 77 Petroleum in New Hyde Park. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

“We’ve gone from something that was highly mechanical in nature and we’re moving to electric power trains and 70, 80, 100 control units on a vehicle that are highly complex and require an advanced skillset to diagnose and repair. There has been more change in the last five years than the previous 30,” he said.

To handle the growth in its auto program, the college is planning to build a new 55,000-square-foot, $25 million automotive facility at its Brentwood campus in the next few years.

The Eastern Suffolk BOCES campuses in Oakdale and Riverhead have 166 high school students enrolled in automotive technology programs this semester, up from 136 last year, said Leah Arnold, director of career, technical and adult education at the educational cooperative.

She believes the growth is fueled by both the quality of the program and changing perceptions about technical education and careers.

“Since COVID, I think people are reconsidering and thinking about the value of a four-year degree vs. a technical education,” she said.

Massapequa motel closed … Riverhead charter school … Boxing bus driver  Credit: Newsday

Beauvais sentencing ... LI home prices ... Lindsay Lohan's new movie ... What's up on LI

Massapequa motel closed … Riverhead charter school … Boxing bus driver  Credit: Newsday

Beauvais sentencing ... LI home prices ... Lindsay Lohan's new movie ... What's up on LI

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