Jensen Tire & Auto funding puts local automotive industry on the lift
Jensen Tire & Auto, a family-run automotive services provider, will celebrate its 50-year anniversary serving the Omaha area in 2023. The company has seen a great deal of change in the industry throughout its history, with the past decade ushering in some of the biggest advancements — technology that has enabled electric vehicles; enhanced safety features; automated driver assistance technologies; and improved diagnostics and performance.
As cars today more closely resemble rolling computers, and as baby boomers simultaneously retire from service shops across the country, Jensen Tire & Auto is funding Metropolitan Community College outreach intended to inject the local sector with a talent pool of young workers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 69,000 openings for automotive service technicians and mechanics are projected each year through 2030, with most openings expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer occupations or exit the labor force. Scott Henry, MCC automotive outreach specialist — the position funded by Jensen Tire & Auto — spends his workdays recruiting high school students throughout a four-county region (Douglas, Sarpy, Dodge and Washington) to enroll in MCC technical training programs. He visits schools to give in-class presentations, brings large groups to tour MCC facilities, attends career fairs, hosts open houses and goes to industry events.
“A lot of students currently don’t have the opportunity to work in an automotive shop in high school because there are still schools that have not transitioned back to offering the trades as part of their educational programs, so I am working on letting high school students and their families know about opportunities in the automotive industry,” Henry said.
Nick Jensen, vice president of retail operations for Jensen Tire & Auto, said the College’s investment in its Automotive Training Center, a more than 100,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, provides specialized auto collision and automotive technology education that is ideally suited to train the automotive workforce of today and tomorrow.
“When I got into the industry 20 years ago, the standard of training used to be, ‘Hey, go ahead and follow this guy around,’ and in a year or so, you’ll be ready to go,” Jensen said. “We don’t have the time or people to do that anymore, so we rely on community colleges to train the workforce on the latest technology because it’s always changing.
“MCC has really come to the table in recent years and improved its facilities. Students are well prepared for careers because MCC programs take students off site for training with instructors, rather than doing traditional job shadowing, where the student may be learning from someone who might be more concerned with getting the job done in a timely manner for a customer rather than focusing on the teaching component with the student.”
Henry said industry professionals who visit MCC automotive facilities leave impressed. One group visited the Automotive Training Center at MCC shortly after visiting a school in Texas known to have top facilities.
“They left our tour saying not only were our facilities bigger, but they were better overall. The ventilation alone in this building is on grade with the air quality of a hospital. It’s not the dirty garage experience some might expect. It’s one of the top facilities in the Midwest,” Henry said.
With its opening coinciding with the pandemic, it’s not as widely known as a facility of its caliber typically might be. Henry is working on changing that, as well as increasing awareness around the diverse pathways to lucrative careers in the automotive sector. Many receive their education at little or no cost — often with paid, off-site learning integrated.
In just under a year in the role, Henry has presented to more than 500 students who mostly attend schools that no longer offer automotive programs.
“A lot of these jobs are paying more and giving kids in the community more options instead of all being funneled in the same way,” Jensen said. “We want to give back by developing the workforce and making sure we have better quality employees across the entire industry.”
Scott Broady, MCC associate dean of industrial technology, said having the commitment and funding support of Jensen Tire & Auto for MCC outreach will benefit the entire industry.
“Jensen sees the overall need in the industry. As schools across the country transitioned away from the trades, it created an awareness gap about career opportunities, wage growth and what the experience is today working in a modern shop,” Broady said. “Having a position solely dedicated to reconnecting young people to careers in the field raises all boats in the industry. MCC, the area automotive industry and the greater community are fortunate to have Jensen’s support.”
Henry began working in the role during the surge of the COVID-19 delta variant in July 2021 and unique economic conditions affecting the automotive industry have followed. In addition to technological innovation driving wage growth, supply chain issues affecting the availability of new vehicles, higher fuel prices and increased travel expenses are also fueling demand for workers in the industry.
“I would estimate that in just the last five years, wages are up almost 50%, and the used car market has increased by about the same margin more recently. People are holding onto their vehicles longer, and we need great technicians to fix them,” Jensen said.
The local and regional industry is responding with exclusive, direct-to-hire education, training and certification programs, such as the existing Toyota T-TEN program. This cohort program is the first of others coming on board at MCC like the new auto collision cohort program and the new MOPAR® Career Automotive Program offering.
“There is such a need, and this is a high-skill trade. The way the technology is changing, it also takes bringing workers in for continuing education, so whether it’s bringing new workers into the industry or developing existing ones, our partners can see the ways being involved with MCC is going to help them in the long run,” Henry said.
Jensen Tire & Auto is a local employer of 225, and since the opening of the Automotive Training Center at MCC, Jensen estimates around 20 current employees have attended the College for training. In addition to funding MCC outreach, Jensen Tire & Auto also makes it easier for people to get started on their careers in the industry by purchasing the first set of tools for its employees, which can cost thousands of dollars.
“There are a lot more jobs available, so the more we can get people interested in the trades, the greater impact it will have on the local workforce,” Jensen said. “As an industry, we just need to continue to come together and show the value we bring to the community.”
The MCC automotive technology program is accredited by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence Education Foundation (Master level) and the MOPAR® Career Automotive Program and offers more than 19 National Coalition of Certification Centers certifications to both students and the public through MCC continuing education programs.