Generation Z, which makes up those born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s, has been dubbed “Zoomers,” “iGeneration,” and also the “Toolbelt Generation.”

With the average cost of college in the U.S. more than doubling in the 21st century, more young people are choosing alternative pathways. The number of students enrolled in vocational-focused community colleges increased 16% from 2022 to 2023. Specifically, the number of students studying vehicle maintenance and repair increased by 7%.

This cultural shift of what is expected of young people after high school is huge for the automotive and diesel industries. For decades, the automotive and diesel industries have been plagued with a shortage of technicians—leaving shops and dealerships scrambling to find and keep good qualified technicians.

Could the Toolbelt Generation be just what the automotive and diesel industry need to solve the technician shortage?

Well, maybe, but that doesn’t mean shops and dealerships can get lazy and expect these young workers to come knocking down their doors asking for jobs.

Different Generation, Different Expectations

Just like every other generation preceding it, the Toolbelt Generation has different expectations and things they’re looking for in an employer. More than any other generation before them, the Toolbelt Generation seeks:

  • Purpose in their work
  • Work-life balance
  • A workplace that values sustainability and social responsibility
  • Diverse and inclusive workplaces
  • Tech-savvy practices

Shops and dealerships need to keep these values in mind when recruiting members from the Toolbelt Generation if they want to curb the technician shortage.

With these values in mind, how can shops and dealerships successfully attract and retain members of the Toolbelt Generation to their shop?

WrenchWay: A Better Way to Hire Technicians

How Shops Can Recruit & Retain the Toolbelt Generation

There’s no silver bullet to recruiting the Toolbelt Generation, but there are ways shops and dealerships can better reach them.

Get involved with them early.

Gen Z is considered a more socially conscious generation, and they want to work for businesses whose values for social responsibility align with their own. One way shops and dealerships can demonstrate their commitment to their community and the educational development of local students is by getting involved with schools. This goes beyond showing up on career day.

Shops and dealerships need to find deeper involvement through things like:

  • Providing tours of their facilities to classes
  • Speaking to students about career opportunities in the automotive and diesel industries
  • Giving demonstrations and helping instructors fill curriculum gaps
  • Donating tools, parts, supplies, and even vehicles to classrooms
  • Offering paid internships and training for students

Take a different approach on social media.

Gen Z doesn’t want to see your “We’re hiring” posts. They want to see what it’s like to work at your shop to get a feel for if it’s a good fit for their lifestyle.

When looking at your shop’s social media pages, they may be asking themselves:

  • Does this shop share the same values as I do?
  • How do they take care of their technicians?
  • What sort of work do their technicians take on?
  • Does their work environment support people from all different backgrounds?

Shops and dealerships can help answer these questions for potential Gen Z candidates by sharing content on their social media that shows:

  • Day in the life at the shop (i.e., projects technicians are working on, shop processes and procedures, new technology and equipment, trainings, etc.)
  • Fun things going on around the shop (i.e., company outings, group lunches, funny stories, etc.)
  • Employee recognition (i.e., awards, featured employees, milestones, etc.)

Focus on skill-based hiring and invest in training and development.

Since the Toolbelt Generation is less likely to seek formal education, it’s important for shops and dealerships to focus on real-world experience and certifications. In the automotive and diesel industries, this is pretty well-adapted already. However, one area where shops may be able to step it up is with their training and development programs for technicians. Studies have shown that Gen Z looks for employers who show commitment to their long-term growth, and many want support from their employer to build specific skills for their role.

To attract more Gen Zers, shops and dealerships should look into and invest in things like:

  • In-shop paid training for technicians
  • Mentorship programs
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • ASE certification reimbursements

The Toolbelt Generation Brings Hope to the Automotive & Diesel Technician Shortage

With the rising costs of college tuition, more young people are looking for alternative career paths after high school, like going into the trades. This is great news for industries like automotive and diesel, which have been dealing with a shortage of talent for a long time. But, to attract and keep these young workers, shops and dealerships need to understand what they care about and use that knowledge to re-think their recruiting and retention strategies.

The shortage of technicians isn’t over and the work doesn’t end here, but Gen Z is certainly looking promising for the automotive and diesel industries.