Many of us have seen studies indicating that today’s young people are less interested in owning and driving cars than were prior generations. The statistics suggest that kids might be more likely to hot rod their cell phones and spend money on video games than buy cool stuff for cars.
While worries over a graying customer base are not new, the concerns today seem many and more difficult to overcome. The SEMA Board of Directors has been spending time and effort looking into whether and how the association can help keep gearhead passion alive and well among a healthy portion of younger people today.
We began these efforts a few years ago, working on career paths. SEMA members asked the association to help inform and inspire younger people about career opportunities in our industry.
SEMA is addressing the issue by identifying qualified students and helping them learn about careers in the automotive specialty aftermarket. SEMA’s Student Program at the SEMA Show has grown to include more than 600 students from 65 schools around the country. This year, the program will include a career fair, matching these students with industry representatives to get firsthand experience and to learn about career paths in the aftermarket industry. And this year, the Student Program will be introduced at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in December. Just as at the SEMA Show, top students will get an opportunity to meet and connect with exhibitors—in this case, specifically from the racing industry.
To help provide continuity for the Student Program, SEMA also recently launched a new Career Center online at www.sema.org/jobs. More than 500 new jobs have already been posted, and more than 1,300 job seekers have created profiles. This online resource is proving a valuable tool to link qualified students with job opportunities.
SEMA’s successful efforts with career-age students have inspired a next step: SEMA is now exploring ways to engage even younger kids, aiming to help more of them discover their inner car geek. A Youth Engagement task force is currently working to define the goals, scope and potential of this initiative. To start, the group recently launched a pilot program—the SEMA Custom Car Camp at the SEMA Garage—to learn more about engaging younger would-be enthusiasts.
The Car Camp took place in July and was designed to give youngsters ages 10–13 a taste of automotive customizing culture. The campers were exposed to basic vehicle mechanics by working on Traxxas RC cars and, using the SEMA Garage’s 3D printer, creating parts to customize their vehicles for performance, aesthetics and speed. The camp included a field trip to the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California, and a celebrity appearance by Sung Kang from The Fast and the Furious films. At the end of the week, there was a car show with local customized vehicles, and the campers raced the vehicles they had worked on all week. You can catch highlights by visiting the SEMA Custom Car Camp website at www.sema.org/camp.
Moving forward, the experience SEMA is gaining through the student career paths programs and exploring youth engagement will guide the association to more productive and effective opportunities that help keep custom-car culture in the minds of young people. Such efforts are an important step in keeping our industry in position to grow and prosper.