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Shortage of auto mechanics creates career opportunity

A big shortage of professional auto mechanics is a reality nationwide, including Portland. That could mean career opportunities for those willing to learn the trade.

PORTLAND, Ore. — It comes with the territory as a driver: you need to get your vehicle in for routine maintenance and sometimes to get problems fixed.

That's harder to do in 2023, thanks to a big shortage of mechanics, or automotive technicians, nationwide, including in the Pacific Northwest.

“It's a really big problem there's a shortage that every shop sees and feels, it hurts,” said Jay Goninen.

Goninen is co-funder and president of an enterprise called WrenchWay, an online community for auto and diesel professionals. It's launching local chapters in April, including in Portland, to help promote and improve careers in auto repair locally.

“So a lot of it is just starting conversations and starting to figure out how do we get this ship righted we get more people into the industry and how do we keep the ones we've already got,” said Goninen.

WrenchWay works with a thousand auto shops and 500 schools across the country, including Portland Community College and its automotive services technology program.

Jay Huykendahl is an automotive instructor at PCC, who said the two year training program will get you a certificate, and an associate's degree if you add in other course work.  Graduates can start work as an apprentice level automotive technician.

“So they're ready to go out and work in the shop. They've got a good knowledge base at that point. They're ready to go out and start learning the real work of auto repair,” said Jay Huykendahl.

And the real world is hiring; some estimates put the U.S. shortage of auto techs at more than a half million, thanks to a long stretch of retiring workers, and even more leaving during the pandemic.

And if you think of mechanics work as greasy and low paying, those times have changed, too, according to Margaret Ragan of the Northwest Automotive Trades Association.

“Often after three or four years of getting really good practice and real experience, these technicians are making $60,000 to $100,000 a year; that's a living wage,” said Ragan.

Credit: KGW

Back at PCC, student Angel Orosco is on his way to what he wants to become, “A master technician and eventually open my own shop, but we'll see how that pans out.” 

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