Scholarships and the Future: A Few Words With Ernie Silvers
Winners of SEMA scholarships were invited to attend the SEMA Show and participated in a variety of student activities. During a student welcome lunch, the winners in attendance met with SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting (not pictured) as well as SEMA Chairman of the Board Doug Evans (center, back row).
Ernie Silvers remembers wanting to be involved with SEMA the very first time he attended the SEMA Show as an exhibitor with Egge Machine Company. Now the CEO and president of Egge Machine, Silvers was overwhelmed with everything he observed during that first Show and knew that he would one day be involved with the association at a deeper level.
Shortly after his first exhibitor experience, Silvers joined the Automotive Restoration Market Organization (ARMO) and quickly earned a leadership position. He eventually became ARMO’s chair-elect and was tasked with taking the Jeff Moses/ARMO Scholarship Fund (JM/ASF) from dream to reality. Moses was ARMO chairman in 2001 when he and four key members of his company were tragically lost in an airplane crash. When the JM/ASF was subsequently established, Silvers spearheaded the effort to award the first scholarship in Moses’ honor.
Silvers’ active involvement in the JM/ASF eventually led him to become a member of the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund (SMSF) committee. He recently spoke about the students it serves and the need to bring them a broader awareness of careers in the automotive aftermarket.
SEMA Member News: What has piqued your interest in drawing young people to careers in the automotive realm?
Ernie Silvers: Over the years, my involvement with the scholarship committee, interest in education and encouragement from mentors Dick Dixon and Dr. Pat McInturff led to my becoming an adjunct faculty member at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). Last year was my 15th SEMA Show and my first opportunity to be a SEMA Show faculty advisor to six Cal State business students. It was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career—like taking kids to Disneyland for the first time. It was simply amazing!
The SMSF was initiated for the purpose of raising funds to provide scholarships to students pursuing college educations. My guess is that it was spearheaded by a group who visualized the growing need for aftermarket professionals.
SMN: What do you view as the mission of the SMSF?
ES: I think that the mission of the SMSF is to make students aware of the vast career opportunities that exist yet are unfilled in the automotive aftermarket. A common theme throughout the automotive industry is the difficulty of finding talented new employees. The automotive aftermarket employs nearly every trade and skill set imaginable. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense to expose these opportunities to young talent at trade schools, tech schools, community colleges and at universities.
Our mission is to help students get through their educations and expose that same young talent to the “greatest automotive show earth”—SEMA-member companies. Offering scholarships is the teaser to take a closer look and explore the career opportunities that await eager students in the automotive aftermarket.
SMN: What do you see as the greatest challenges in attracting the next generation to automotive careers?
ES: There was a time when learning to drive was the ultimate dream of every teenager. Then technology happened, and suddenly young people didn’t need to leave the house to communicate with friends or shop or be entertained. Some even suggest that the “driving bug” actually skipped a generation. I’ve been in the industry better than 25 years, and the conversation hasn’t changed much. Making the automotive industry attractive to younger people is an ongoing challenge, with more questions than answers.
There are now four generations working side-by-side for the first time in American industrial history. However, as Baby Boomers continue to retire at record rates, a serious deficit in the aftermarket talent pool gets deeper. And as the Gen-X and Gen-Y folks continue to move into management positions, Millennials have become the target.
Understanding Millennials has become somewhat of a science. People in other industries have suggested that there’s a war on for attracting Millennial talent. It’s imperative that we in the aftermarket start taking this war more seriously. Understanding what Millennials want in the workplace and creating an environment for attracting Millennial talent is no longer an option.
Working with Cal State students has helped me understand the importance of “getting them to the Show.” Once students have seen and experienced firsthand the magic of the automotive aftermarket, they can’t help but get excited about it. They’re hooked!
Students love to mingle with the people who do the work, make the parts, sell the parts and make the cars look cool. Whether it’s instructional workshops or attending the SEMA Show, exposing students to the automotive aftermarket shows them that the opportunities are endless and there’s something cool to do here!
SMN: What roles do scholarships play in that process?
ES: Being a faculty member allows me a firsthand look at the expense attached to getting an education. Money is a much-needed resource for furthering one’s education, and scholarships awarded by the SMSF are very helpful in getting books and tuition paid for. Many of my students are working at least one job, sometimes two, just to get through college. It’s an added distraction to their education process, to say the least.
Our scholarships also provide a way for enthusiastic students to become connected to the aftermarket vicariously through SEMA. This connection fuels the fire of desire to get into the aftermarket—where the cool jobs are!