Youth Engagement: The Path Ahead

SEMA News—March 2017

Chris Kersting

Youth Engagement: The Path Ahead

Chris KerstingOne of SEMA’s strategic aims has been to involve the younger generation, awaken an interest in all things automotive and perhaps even help young people to find careers in the automotive space. In recent years we have developed a number of programs that work toward that goal, and today the SEMA board is making its youth initiative a top priority.

A familiar example would be the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow program, founded by Jim Bingham and managed by son Rodney Bingham. This youth program has provided a platform for students to gain access to the automotive industry since 2008. As it earned widespread support from industry companies, including SEMA, the program has steadily expanded and now boasts 160 teams and roughly 800 students participating in the team-building challenge.

The competition serves as a platform for students in their high-school years to jump into the automotive industry with confidence. This year, the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow organization is exploring new ways to reach more youngsters by adding new challenges on both beginner and advanced levels. As these plans unfold, you’ll be hearing more about them.

SEMA is now very close to announcing a pilot program, partnering with a well-regarded auto-show series that already has a well-established program bringing high-school and college-level students to its events. With a boost from SEMA, we believe that the Youth Day programs can be expanded to expose even younger students to the best of the custom-car culture and help build passion for the industry.

A third program is in the works, in which SEMA will engage with new partners in the regional car-show realm to help expand our already successful SEMA Battle of the Builders program. The Battle of the Builders competition is a consumer-awareness initiative that features automotive artisans competing for top honors at the SEMA Show each year. The competition has generated tremendous interest, pulling down millions of media impressions across a wide range of audiences.

Moving forward, the plan is to continue spotlighting the established builder community while also developing special recognition for talented younger builders from across the United States. Through this “Young Guns” initiative, next-generation builders nationwide will have the opportunity to compete locally for a worthy prize: the chance to showcase their cars and trucks at the SEMA Show and to participate in the SEMA Battle of the Builders. These young regional winners will experience the automotive specialty-equipment industry firsthand, interact with top industry professionals, and perhaps launch promising careers.

The Young Guns program will create opportunities to tell the stories of these younger builders and to share photos and videos that will resonate with their peers. This content has the potential to reach a wide range of young consumers currently outside the enthusiast mainstream, helping grow the numbers of young enthusiasts and participants in automotive lifestyles.

Attracting the interest of young people may be more challenging than it once was, but there are more approaches to try today than ever before. As we leverage new media, launch new initiatives and work with appropriate partners, SEMA will be moving the needle in the right direction.

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