NJ CAR’s Automotive Technician Apprenticeship Program started strong in 2020. Going into February, the program had already enrolled 80 apprentices since launching in September 2019. Four individual training sessions had commenced and were well under way when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Dealerships were faced with mandatory shutdowns and business disruptions. These unprecedented times also brought on layoffs, furloughs and terminations. Many of the program’s apprentices were temporarily laid off but were eventually offered their jobs back. We estimate about 80% of our initial apprentices returned to the program and their dealership. The resumption of training classes turned out to be extremely difficult, with schools remaining closed for an extended time due to Governor Murphy’s Executive Order.
Dealership sales and service bounced back quickly in the late spring and summer months. More than ever, they were in desperate need of technicians. With the fall 2020 school year’s status starting in-person largely unknown, planning new training sessions was nearly impossible. Automotive engineering is not a trade to be taught virtually. At this point, some schools have resumed in-person instruction, allowing some of our apprentices to complete their classes, but others remain at a standstill. We have had 26 graduates so far and anticipate another 17 by November 2020.
The grant contract that NJ CAR had entered ended May 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. NJ CAR requested and was granted a six-month extension, hoping the pandemic would be well over. At this point, the contract is nearing the end of its extension. NJ CAR is working diligently to request an additional six months so that dealerships can continue to have the benefit of well trained apprentice technicians.