Article appeared on National Retail Federation Website
Author: J. Craig Shearman

When John Marshall and co-owners of Ohio’s Dayton-based Grismer Tire and Auto Service tried to open a new location recently, the ribbon-cutting had to be delayed by three months.

The reason for the delay — trouble finding enough skilled mechanics and tire installers to fill the jobs.

“There’s way too much of a push these days for four years of college and not nearly enough for trade schools,” Marshall said. “We have trouble finding enough people who are skilled automotive technicians. What really needs to be addressed is the image of a tradesman. In Europe, they’re held in much higher esteem.”

The shortage of skilled blue-collar workers and training to prepare them for their jobs was one of the top concerns Marshall voiced earlier this month when House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, visited Grismer’s Springboro store south of Dayton. Chabot, who represents the district and was accompanied by representatives of NRF and the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, met with employees, toured the store and heard owners’ concerns about challenges facing small businesses.

The visit came just after President Trump signed legislation providing a $1.2 billion reauthorization and update of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which is expected to provide training for 11 million students in programs run by high schools, community colleges and trade schools. NRF and other business groups supported passage of the bill this summer, saying in a letter that it would help end a “shortage of skilled workers to fill in-demand positions.”

Marshall said he hopes the legislation will help with training, but that a public relations campaign is needed as well.

“It needs to start with high schools,” he said. “Someone needs to explain the great opportunities that are out there. There’s nothing wrong with a four-year college but you don’t need it to make a good living.”

Grismer has 280 employees at its 26 retail and two commercial locations, and automotive technicians receive a median annual wage of $52,000 plus full benefits, according to Marshall. A number of the company’s mechanics make $100,000 a year.

The company saw significant savings under the federal tax reform law that took effect at the beginning of the year, and has used the money to increase wages – a move Marshall said was necessary because of tight competition to find qualified workers.

Marshall also welcomed the recent Supreme Court ruling that online sellers can be required to collect sales tax the same as local stores. He said some customers regularly buy tires online to avoid state and local sales tax, then bring them to his stores to be mounted, leaving him with a far smaller share of the transaction than if they bought locally.

Avoiding sales tax is so common that Montgomery County, where Dayton is located, recently had to increase its sales tax rate by a quarter of a percentage point to make up for the lost revenue. “People think they’re saving, but they’re getting a tax increase anyway because the community has to raise the sales tax,” Marshall said.

In addition to those issues, Marshall remains concerned by the Affordable Care Act. Even though Grismer provides health insurance, paperwork costs have been driven up by the law’s requirement that employers provide proof that the insurance they provide is affordable, he said.