Career Windows: Engaging the Next Generation of Aftermarket Professionals
This summer, SEMA Education launched Career Windows—a new program designed to introduce college students to the industry.
The question of how to involve the next generation in the automotive specialty-equipment industry is a topic that comes up in nearly every SEMA membership meeting. Over the last year, the Board of Directors and staff have put quite a bit of thought and effort into developing youth-engagement initiatives. SEMA continues to expand its portfolio of resources to address what is commonly referred to as “a graying industry.” This summer, SEMA Education launched Career Windows—a new program designed to introduce college students to the industry.
“In talking to our members, one of their biggest challenges right now is finding qualified and eager employees,” said Chris Kersting, SEMA president and CEO. “We are launching this new tool to develop the next generation of industry leaders and ultimately help fill that void. After test driving a successful program at our headquarters last summer, we are excited to see how our member companies will benefit, too.”
The Career Windows program is a new kind of internship. Geared toward college students, the one-, two- or three-week program seeks to grow excitement in future employees and help them connect their own interests to positions in the automotive world. Through a unique structure of scheduled department visits, student participants gain a big-picture view of the industry and exposure to the variety of career options within a particular company.
While not a traditional job-training program, it allows SEMA-member companies to invest in the next generation of automotive industry leaders. Through tailored work experience, members can effectively create a talent pipeline for their own companies, test-driving possible future employees and expose their brands to new sets of eyes.
SEMA-member companies can apply to host students, and SEMA will assist with matching local interns. Host companies for Career Windows are responsible for providing the structure, goals and experience for the student, but SEMA has put together resources to help them launch successful internships.
SEMA experimented with the format at its Diamond Bar headquarters in June of 2014 and was pleased with the outcome. Ian Moon, a sophomore business major at the University of California, Berkeley, spent three weeks in the SEMA office. He learned from each of the association’s departments, including membership, SEMA Garage, special events, trade show, publications, marketing and public relations. Each department visit lasted between one and three days, depending on its size and scope. Moon met with key stakeholders and department leaders to gain an understanding of how each position fit into the greater purpose of the organization and then assisted with current projects.
Moon was first drawn to the program because of the opportunity to learn about business operations and management. Though he had not yet chosen an area of emphasis, he expressed an interest in one day leading his own organization.
“I was fortunate to sit in on a lot of meetings and have one-on-one conversations with George [Afremow, vice president and CFO], Chris [Kersting], Bill [Miller, senior vice president of operations] and all the heads of the departments,” said Moon. “These experiences helped me better understand SEMA and the inner workings of a company.”
The scope of the program was another thing that appealed to Moon from the beginning.
“Many of my friends tell me that they stuff envelopes for eight hours a day, five days a week and maybe learn something for 30 minutes,” he said. “During this internship, most of my time was spent learning. When I did do smaller, more tedious tasks, I was aware of the purpose and felt that I was really benefitting the team.”
Moon was not the only one who enjoyed the fresh format. Staff members also remarked on the strengths of the program and saw great opportunity for SEMA-member companies.
“I think it’s a really tremendous opportunity for members of the industry to open their doors and welcome students to their companies,” said Jamie Eriksen, SEMA’s special events director. “I think that the industry recognizes that bringing in and bringing up the next generation is really critical. It’s a high priority—we’ve heard that many times from companies. This is a really easy way for them to do that.”
SEMA looks forward to working toward solutions alongside members. Companies interested in hosting a student are invited to contact Director of Education Zane Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org to begin the matching process. Visit www.sema.org/career-windows for more information.