Why Students Choose the Automotive Aftermarket

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Why Students Choose the Automotive Aftermarket

Elisse Richardson

By Elisse Richardson, 2023 Graduate, Northwood University Richard DeVos Graduate School of Management

To me, the motor vehicle aftermarket is much more than just replacement parts. I’ve always had a love of vehicles from growing up at car shows with my family, but that is not why I chose the aftermarket. I chose to get an education in this industry and commit my career to it because of the people and sense of community the aftermarket provides. Reflecting on my four years at Northwood University, I was given many opportunities to learn about the aftermarket outside the classroom. My first industry experience was during my first semester at Northwood, when I was able to attend Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week (HDAW) and I was hooked after the first day. 

Northwood Interns pictured at 2023 HDAW

A New Generation is Graduating

Young people entering the workforce with a strong work ethic and a fresh perspective know that their contributions can make a valuable impact on a company. In return, young professionals want a company with learning opportunities and a growth path for success. Inclusion, a positive working environment, continuous learning, work-life balance and a sense of belonging in an industry are all important to the incoming Generation Z. We choose the aftermarket industry knowing that opportunities like these are waiting. 

The heart of the aftermarket is innovation; improving upon technology and solving problems for the consumer while maintaining strong relationships. As someone born in 2001, I grew up with technology. The first iPhone came out when I was six, we got computers in our classrooms when I was 11, and I did a semester of college online when I was 19. This made our generation highly adaptable to change since the tools for our education and work evolved so quickly. Entering an industry where at its core is change feels natural for our generation.

Members of the NU Aftermarket Club pictured with their 1989 BMW e30 project car at AutoRama 2022

Industry Groups That Build a Community

Unlike my peers going into finance or the sports industry, I had the advantage of a wide network of mentors who I met in the aftermarket. My mentors are the first people I go to when I need advice or help, and are often the people I learn the most from. Expanding my network was made easy by industry groups that I was lucky to be a part of as a student. 

Young Auto Care Network Group (YANG) allowed me to meet young professionals who can better relate to getting an internship or what a transition from college to a career specific to the aftermarket is like. Women in Auto Care helped me meet intelligent, successful and professional women in the aftermarket who I can look to as role models. Modern Industry eXpertise (MiX) makes it easier to have a personal connection with an industry leader. 

Any student who has gotten a chance to expand their network through groups like these has met the real aftermarket. Involved industry members are excited for young people to be interested in the aftermarket, and will support students in any way they can to ensure their success. For someone just starting their career, experiencing a supportive, connected and vast industry gives a peace of mind that they’re making the right choice. 

Northwood interns pictured at the Aftermarket Jackpot during AAPEX and SEMA 2022

Northwood University’s Connection

Over Northwood University’s 64 years, they have maintained a strong connection with the aftermarket on and off campus. Dr. Thomas Litzinger, Northwood’s Industry Chair of Aftermarket Education, comments that, “Our students succeed because they are exposed to real-life-aftermarket rather than theory.” Real-life-aftermarket is what keeps students engaged, and can range from an industry member speaking in the classroom to a sponsorship to attend AAPEX and SEMA.

These exchanges are where we learn the most, and can get exposure to current issues in the aftermarket. Many of my peers have gotten internships and jobs from being sponsored by a company or working with them at an event. Northwood University offers the highest level of talent because of the industry support and connections that they maintain. To get involved with Northwood or their sponsorship programs, contact Dr. Thomas Litzinger at: litzinge@northwood.edu.

(Left to right) Steve Madincea, Kent MacDonald, Bill Long, Elisse Richardson
pictured at the 2022 Outstanding Business Leaders Award Gala

Though my perspective is as a Timberwolf, the perception of the industry from other interns and young people stays the same. The aftermarket is a complex, innovative and personal business. It values people and they have created a community within it. It is constantly growing and needs more people to start their careers in it every day. The aftermarket already has every part and tool to be a place where my generation can thrive. 

Elisse Richardson is a recent graduate of Northwood University Richard DeVos Graduate School of Management where she earned her Master of Business Administration. She earned her Bachelor of Business Administration from Northwood University where she majored in Automotive Aftermarket Management. Elisse plans to enter the aftermarket industry in a full time role this fall. She may be reached at: richardsone8@northwood.edu.

Aug. 23, 2023