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John Gustafson has a vision and a mission

The longtime shop owner is intent on bringing industry efforts together to solve the tech shortage — but first he says it has to lose its “silo” mentality

Huntington Beach, Calif.—Stronger together, as the saying goes, could be the mantra of the Auto Talent Co-Op (ATC), an initiative that John Gustafson, owner of Gustafson Brothers Automotive Services in Huntington Beach, Calif., sees as a path forward to solving the technician shortage.

“The clear challenge that we have in the industry as a whole is getting people interested in this profession. The challenge I’m having with ATC is developing enough buy-in to actually make something happen,” Gustafson told Aftermarket Matters Weekly. “There’s a lot of talk to solve this industry-wide concern, and a lot of people moving in the right direction — but they’re all in their own individual ‘silos.’”

The intent of ATC is to seek out and recognize the work of all industry groups and help synchronize best practices to benefit all stakeholders. Those “groups” include existing and future associations, 20 groups, business development groups, vendors, shops and all other industry members that touch automotive.

“While all independent efforts are great and important, we can be better together,” he said. “We also all gain to learn something by collaborating to help fuel and energize individual efforts in each silo.”

The objective of the non-political and not-for-profit ATC is to create and maintain a centralized communication hub that is focused in the field of automotive through recruiting, training and career paths. Participation in the co-op has to be a “must have” for all everyone in automotive and must be sustainable, he said.

Gustafson added that ATC is not intended to be led and managed by a single individual, but rather by a coalition of forward-thinking creative people and industry leaders. Individuals will be selected and sponsored by manufacturers, distributors, vendors, trainers and associations. The core mission of the coalition is to identify and document auto career paths, organize training and recruiting and to have trained, qualified, employable people available to the auto trades profession.

“We need a place for information from one source, and I haven’t seen it yet. All efforts so far are good and have their purpose, but none have found the formula to pull it all together — from mechanical and collision to heavy-duty truck. We need a common place to find talented people to hire in every market.”

How it works

There are five unique but interdependent core pools, or “Action Pods,” at the center of ATC. The first three pods are Career Paths, Recruiting, and Training. The next two make the co-op a “must have” and “be sustainable.”

Gustafson further explained that each of the five pods begins with five team members per pod. The 25 initial members are auto industry leaders who either participate or volunteer a member of their staff. The size of the pods will adapt to the size of the tasks within the pods as the process develops and matures.

Each pod will also have field teams to visit shops and energize the mission. Industry segment leaders will participate themselves or sponsor members from their current teams and allow those pod members to invest one hour per month into ATC.

What’s next?

When asked if he has a sense of industry collaboration building for ATC, Gustafson replied, “No,” but added that the solution is to have an executive director who will be responsible for delivering the vision and visit with industry leaders to build interest and support.

He noted that funding for the initiative appears abundant from parts manufacturers, government grant programs, automobile clubs, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and others.

Gustafson’s message to silos? “I know you’re aware there’s an auto talent shortage — I’ve seen your work, and it’s good — but it isn’t being seen or heard far enough away from your home base. I want to take your great efforts and broadcast it across a larger audience. I would love to have you participate for one hour a month in your area of expertise and contribute to the solution for the industry as whole.”

He added, “This needs to be a truly cooperative effort by the people in the profession — for the profession.”

For more information and to become involved, visit or contact Gustafson at

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