NMC Helps Backfill Job Gaps: College links students to difficult-to-hire positions

Partnerships between Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) and several local businesses are helping employers fill crucial job gaps in their ranks.

According to Jason Slade, the academic chair for NMC’s technical academic area, the college has been in the process of linking students to local employers. NMC students benefit by getting hands-on work experience and perhaps a pathway to well-paying job prospects. On the other side, the partner businesses benefit by being able to fill difficult-to-hire positions or upscale their workforce during peak times.

The first partnership is between NMC’s automotive technology program and the Bill Marsh Automotive Group. Slade says that each time program coordinator Wayne Moody has a new class of students for his Automotive

Service Basics course, he starts things off with a visit to one of Bill Marsh’s service facilities. Those visits incorporate a tour and a Q&A session and are intended to give students a feel for the job. From there, students often have opportunities to work part-time with Bill Marsh while working toward their degree or certification.
Not only does NMC give its students a glimpse into the world of auto tech service through Bill Marsh Auto, but Bill Marsh Auto also sends its younger, less-experienced technicians over to the college to earn additional certifications. NMC has worked to tailor some of its automotive technology offerings to suit what Bill Marsh needs for its technicians.

According to Bill Marsh Jr., co-owner of the Bill Marsh Automotive Group, being able to recruit future employees through or because of the NMC partnership is a core component of the company’s hiring strategy. Currently, he says, car dealerships and automotive service garages throughout the country are scrambling to find qualified service technicians.

“Automotive technicians are the biggest job deficit we have in our company right now,” Marsh said. “There is just a shortage of automotive technicians rampant across the industry, really nationwide. So, it’s very hard for us to acquire fully trained technicians with all the manufacturer certifications necessary for the job.”

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 750,000 auto mechanics and auto technicians working in the United States in 2016. With demand growing and boomer retirements spiking, the BLS estimates that the country will need about 46,000 new technicians to join the industry by 2026. The field is simply not growing at a rate fast enough to meet that figure – a fact that has led some industry experts to estimate that there will soon be a 25,000-person shortfall between the number of auto tech jobs available and the number of people qualified to fill them.

“Fortunately, NMC has been very helpful to us,” Marsh said of facing down the auto technician shortage. “We have found that recruiting younger candidates who have limited experience but have competence and promise is helpful. We can bring them in to work in our express service lanes or something like that, and while they may lack some of the rudimentary basics of auto – like working with electrical components, or other education around diagnosing and fixing cars – NMC will respond by developing specific content and training to speak to the needs of these particular students.”

Currently, Marsh says there are four technicians with the company that are also attending courses at NMC. The hope is that, once those students graduate, they will choose to continue working for Bill Marsh Auto.

To drive even more growth in the future, Marsh says the company is in talks with NMC to offer additional opportunities to the college’s automotive students. Currently in the works is an “in-service day,” where students will come over from NMC for an eight-hour day, getting hands-on experience working side-by-side with some of Bill Marsh’s most seasoned auto technicians. Slade says there have also been talks about establishing internship opportunities at numerous Bill Marsh dealerships, all meant for NMC automotive students.

“As long this (auto technician) shortage exists, it’s going to be really important to us to maintain these relationships with NMC,” Marsh said. “And the shortage is probably going to exist for some time.”
In addition to nourishing the Bill Marsh relationship, Slade says he’s open to exploring partnerships with other local businesses to help them respond to staffing shortages or other challenges. This past holiday season, the technical area partnered with eFulfillment Service, Traverse City’s e-commerce order fulfillment company.

Though less tied to a specific degree or certification than the Bill Marsh partnership – the Marsh opportunities are targeted exclusively toward automotive students, while Slade says the eFulfillment partnership was promoted to “all technical students, including engineering technology, manufacturing, welding, and construction trades” – the eFulfillment connection did ultimately provide a similar mutually beneficial structure.

“A partnership with our team at eFulfillment Service and NMC is a win-win for the students, NMC and our organization,” said Merry Hawley, HR manager for eFulfillment. “eFulfillment Service gets to fill a much-needed gap in our labor force with talented young folks that are receiving the latest and greatest education in their fields. The students get to convert their education to workforce experience, work a flexible schedule around their classes, as well as earn income to offset the cost of their education.”

In terms of flexibility, Slade says that eFulfillment was willing to work around students’ schedules to fill shift slots. He adds that the arrangement was especially convenient given the fact that eFulfillment’s Airport Access Road location is “within walking distance” of NMC’s Aero Park Drive campus, the home of the technical division.

While the initial NMC-eFulfillment partnership focused specifically on eFulfillment’s busy holiday season rush, both Slade and Hawley are interested in revisiting the program and expanding it in the future.

“eFulfillment Service is committed to higher education and we love exploring additional staffing opportunities with NMC,” Hawley said. “We’re actively looking at internships and classes that align with the skillset of our workforce.”