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News of June 19, 2002

BMW Thinks Out of the Box, Looks Under the Hood To Solve Industry Problem

Innovative Program Helps Alleviate Shortage of Skilled Automotive Technicians

WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J. - College graduates are facing a tight job market, but one industry is struggling to meet the demand for skilled employees. Opportunities for automotive service technicians trained to repair today's sophisticated vehicles have skyrocketed and due to this demand, and the advanced skill set required to do the job, well-trained service technicians are a hot commodity.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 60,000 automotive service jobs in the U.S. are going unfilled as automakers compete for skilled labor with other high tech industries.

Ahead of the Curve

Recognizing the importance of well-trained service technicians, BMW of North America, LLC initiated a program in 1996 to help keep pace with its dealers' burgeoning demand -- a demand fueled by the tremendous growth in sales of BMW vehicles in the U.S. (Sales have quadrupled in the past 10 years; there are now more than 1.4 million BMWs on the road.) Called STEP, for Service Technician Education Program, the successful initiative has expanded over the past six years to turn out nearly 1,200 graduates.

STEPping up to the Challenge

Students accepted into the program pay no tuition for the advanced training in automotive services. The placement for graduates has been consistently 100 percent. Only the top students at post-secondary automotive schools throughout the country are accepted into the program; candidates must be bright, highly motivated, drug free, and receive the highest grades and references.

A Good Deal for Dealers

Customer service -- before, during and after the purchase -- is a top priority for BMW and the driving force behind the STEP initiative. Delivering a high level of customer service is imperative and so the company underwrites much of the cost of the additional training needed to service its vehicles.

When hiring a STEP graduate, dealers reimburse BMW for a portion of the training costs. In return, they get a highly skilled and competent worker and can count on a good measure of employee loyalty; the attrition rate for service technicians who completed STEP is about 7 percent since the program began in 1996, compared to an industry average about 15 percent a year.

Reducing the Stigma

As automotive technology becomes more sophisticated, the perception of automotive technicians changes too, says Brian Nelson, BMW's STEP Manager. "A service technician today has more technical knowledge than an automotive engineer 15 years ago. We need to do more at all levels to continue to change mindsets."

One area of emphasis is on secondary schools, where a partnership of auto manufacturers, dealers and qualified high schools offering career and technical training is working to change attitudes and open doors. The Automotive Youth Education Systems (AYES) was created to encourage young people to consider careers in retail automotive service, and to prepare them for entry-level career positions or advanced studies in automotive technology.

BMW is an active participant in AYES; this year, about 40 students will be getting hands-on experience at BMW dealerships across the country, and Tom Purves, chairman and CEO of BMW (US) Holding Corp. is on the AYES board. In addition to providing mentoring experiences and paid internships, dealers also take part in career days at the schools. Upon high school graduation and AYES certification, participating students are prepared to begin entry-level employment or continue their technical education through programs like STEP.

A STEPping Stone to a better future

While the average annual salary for a STEP graduate is $55,000, once the graduate gains on-the-job experience, it can run as high as $75,000 - $100,000 in some parts of the country. And the opportunities don't end there. Indeed, many students have moved on from their initial technician positions - into service management, field service engineering, and even as a head instructor at one of the STEP training facilities.

BMW offers seven regional programs in Orlando; Phoenix; Houston; Cleveland; Fremont, California; Upper Saddle River, New Jersey; and Ontario, California, for 27 weeks of intensive, hands-on training on all BMW models.

(June 17, 2002)

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