Who is the Toolbelt Generation & Why Dealers Should Care

Last year, the National Student Clearinghouse noted a 16% increase in the number of students enrolled in vocational-focused community colleges. Additionally, the number of students studying vehicle maintenance and repair increased by 7%.

Why does that matter?

Hiring in the automotive industry, for technicians in particular, has been doom and gloom since the beginning of the decade. A retiring workforce was already contributing to a workforce shortage, but it was only exacerbated by younger qualified talent leaving the sector for opportunities in other industries.

But this data is painting a happier future.

Dubbed the Toolbelt Generation but also commonly known as Gen Z, this latest wave of workers is forgoing formal college education and diving right into the workforce. They want to roll up their sleeves and get the job done — but how can dealers reach them?

How dealerships can tap into the Toolbelt Generation

While recruiting and hiring, in general, has changed a great deal over the last few years, there are considerably more ways to get in front of the younger generation than ever before. Read on to learn five strategies your dealership can use to drive employer brand awareness and help connect with top automotive talent.

Donate updated equipment to programs in need

There’s little more in this world that can endear a young worker to a potential employer than the opportunity to learn and develop their skills. While you may not be willing to risk a completely new, technician-in-name-only employee in the service bay, you can do the next best thing: make sure that the graduates from vocational training and schools in your local community are being trained on equipment that they’ll actually work on once they’re in the field.

Education programs have been lacking funds for years; this is nothing new. While the automotive industry continues to make advancements that are essentially turning vehicles into rolling computers, some programs don’t have the equipment or budget necessary to properly train enrolled students, which ultimately limits the students’ ability to find jobs once they graduate. You can stop this cycle, and make sure that graduates are up to your standard of hire, by helping to update the training equipment and classrooms for these programs, if you have the funds to do so. You don’t even even need to buy brand new machines to make this happen; you could simply donate working equipment that you’re replacing with a newer version to make this easier for instructors to adequately educate their students.

Offer paid on-the-job training

One of the most pressing issues in the automotive industry is the lack of automotive technician talent available. This trend is due partly to an aging workforce that continues to reach retirement age and the loss of qualified talent to other industries during and after the pandemic. 

But the Toolbelt Generation could change that. In a Jobber survey last year, 75% of high school graduates said they were interested in investigating different vocational options that offer paid, on-the-job training. Instead of opting to start their adult lives with massive amounts of debt, high school graduates are more interested in joining the workforce and making a paycheck. In order to tap into this interested pool of potential employees, your dealership should work on establishing an accredited apprenticeship program so you can increase your fixed operations revenue, meet customer demand, and keep your service bay running smoothly.

Encourage referrals from retiring staff

As we mentioned earlier, a large portion of the automotive workforce are reaching retirement age. As these keystone employees leave dealerships, however, there are vacant positions that simply remain open. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Before your next technician or salesperson walks out the door to retirement, take a minute to ask them if there’s anyone they know outside of the dealership in their network that they’d refer for a job. Good people know good people, and if this employee has managed to stick around until they retire, they probably have an extended network of friends, former colleagues, and family members that they could put in a good word for. Last year, Thumbtack research of skilled workers showed that 94% would encourage their own children or family members to pursue similar occupations as them, so the reward for such a small task is great. Plus, candidates who are sourced from employee referrals are typically hired faster, stay longer, and are more engaged with their employers than traditionally sourced talent. Using an applicant tracking system (ATS) that has the power to manage your employee referral program, like Hireology, is key to making sure that your system runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Walk high school classes through a day in the life

One of the most prevalent trends on social media like TikTok are videos about a day in the life of (fill in the blank). You can use this to your advantage by connecting with students who haven’t even graduated high school by offering to host walkthroughs of your dealership for career days or avocational school to support this strategy. 

Aside from making dealerships seem more welcoming to students who may have never been inside of one before, you can also use this opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of an automotive career. The time is essentially yours on these field trips, so use it to describe how a skilled trade career like automotive technician can help students start their adult lives without student loans, making a good salary right away, in a role that is unlikely to be replaced by artificial intelligence. 

Tell them what’s in it for them

Gen Z is more accustomed to instant gratification than any other generation before, thanks to the constant technological advances made during their lifetime. Whether it’s food, a ride, or even batteries, the younger workforce is used to having everything laid out and delivered to them — and this has translated to the way that modern job descriptions need to be written. Job descriptions are the bread and butter of your recruiting process, but if you’re not writing them to suit the audience that you want to hire (fresh high school graduates and peers similar in age), then you’re not going to see the results that you want.

In order to connect with the Toolbelt Generation, dealerships need to tell potential applicants what’s in it for them as close to the top of the job description as possible. Like with any great song, your job description needs a hook to catch the reader’s attention and make them want to apply — and the best way to do this is by listing what your dealership provides to employees in exchange for their time and labor (aside from wages). The benefits and perks section of your job description is the place to really drive home all aspects of your employer brand to excite potential candidates and influence them to apply, so use this space to speak to Gen Z in a way they’re familiar with.

Ready to hire better talent?

The Toolbelt Generation could not have arrived at a better time for dealers — but is your hiring process optimized to hire better talent faster? Download your copy of the Ultimate Interview Guide to discover how to lead better interviews that convert to better hires.



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