A Strategic Investment in Youth
Look back at early issues of SEMA News and its predecessors, and it’s easy to see that our industry has perpetually been concerned about awakening and inspiring a next generation of car and truck enthusiasts. The ability to capture the youth market is a focus for many industries simply because future success often depends on it. Because young people are open to new ideas and are still developing preferences and identities, the youth demographic offers the possibility of lengthy attachment to a brand, a product or a lifestyle. In addition, young people have significant collective buying power, are often trendsetters, and they influence other demographic groups.
With that in mind, SEMA has become actively involved in youth engagement, exploring a range of concepts and pilot programs to learn how the association can most effectively help inspire youth to participate in the automotive customization lifestyle.
One example is a potentially self-sustaining program that allows high-school auto shop classes to experience a vehicle modification project rolled into a semester of curriculum. In a successful 2018 pilot, SEMA provided a used vehicle to a high-school auto tech program in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The instructor there created a curriculum program that integrated the vehicle build into the semester’s teaching. SEMA members volunteered instruction and equipment to help accomplish the build.
At the end of the school year, the school auctioned the vehicle, generating funds that will more than cover vehicle acquisition and parts to restart the program in the school year ahead. For 2019, SEMA is aiming to provide vehicles to five schools around the country. Our Santa Fe partner has also provided the curriculum guide so that SEMA can give future schools a head start on the curriculum aspect of the project.
In another initiative, SEMA’s middle-school field trip program, the work is accomplished in partnership with Championship Auto Shows and several other partners. The program brings school children to the auto shows and spends several hours with them engaged in activities oriented around science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Teachers and students participating in the program last year gave it very high marks. The program in 2019 will be expanded to 10 events nationwide.
SEMA is also evolving the successful Battle of the Builders program to include a youth component. Working in collaboration with car shows around the country, SEMA awarded 14 young builders the opportunity for expense-paid trips to bring their custom rides to the SEMA Show. Those aspiring builders—all under the age of 27—were able to be introduced to the SEMA industry, compete for best Young Gun, and compete in the overall SEMA Battle of the Builders competition. The Young Guns program has garnered significant social-media coverage as well.
SEMA’s councils are also helping to generate youth-oriented programs. A new program for 2019 will seek to put the book “If I Built a Car” into the hands of up to 1,000 second- and third-grade teachers to build on the fascination younger children often have with cars and trucks. The book was chosen because it offers the automobile as a platform for a young person to express imagination and creativity. SEMA is currently preparing a test program with select grade-school teachers to ensure interest in using the book as an educational tool. If the results are promising, SEMA will partner with the publisher to supply up to 10,000 copies.
Another new idea is to work with kindergarten through 8th-grade school teachers and administrators to develop in-classroom programs that use the automobile as the focus to teach STEM subjects. SEMA has reached out to more than 8,000 teachers seeking proposals for innovative curriculum ideas. SEMA is offering grants to teachers and schools that come up with the most promising proposals. The initial goal is to fund up to 50 programs to better understand what initiatives would be most effective in engaging young people and consider what could be easily replicated in the future.
Understanding how best to awaken the car bug among young people is a first step. SEMA anticipates that—with persistence and the right tactics—youth-oriented programs like those being tested now can help our industry achieve a long-term demographic dividend.