Managing Talent: Finding and Keeping Quality Service Technicians

Finding and Keeping Quality Service Technicians

Auto-tech-mechanicIn the February issue, we discussed finding and keeping employees that enhance sales and management within your dealerships. This month we’ll focus on attracting quality automotive service technicians.

Over the past several years I have been actively involved in several aftermarket associations where the topic of technician shortages has been discussed. Depending on the association, I have heard that we’re down anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 quality technicians – a number that appears to grow each year, fueled by events such as position changes, retirement and individuals exiting the industry all together.

Whatever the number, it is further compounded by the fact that fewer individuals are choosing a career in automotive service industry. So what are the factors contributing to this trend? I believe that the major factor is the ever-increasing complexity of the business. It takes a lot more skill and knowledge today to be a service technician than it did to be an auto mechanic in the past.

Other contributing factors include wages, working conditions, benefits, treatment, working hours, and the investment cost for tools.

Now I’m sure none of this is news to you. So what’s the answer?

Well, let me first state that there is no quick fix for this situation. Every business group is different and every store unique, each having different needs, requiring different approaches. The first step in solving any problem is first recognizing that a problem exists. We must find a more effective method for attracting and retaining quality technicians, and I believe there is a strategy that can be employed to help achieve this goal.

Analyze the Business

Begin by accessing your current service staff. No matter what title you use – A Tech, B Tech, Senior Tech, Junior Tech, etc. – determine how many of each tech level are currently employed and their wage rates.

Next take an in-depth look at your service sales over time. I would recommend a 12-month cycle to account for seasonality. Categorize the sales by the level of technician required to perform the service and note what tech level was actually assigned to perform the work. This is important to see if your talent is being assigned properly.

Here is a very general model that can be used:

  • Entry level – tire and maintenance services
  • Intermediate level – brake, suspension and HVAC services
  • Senior level – engine diagnostics and repair

Now, you are able to calculate several key business indicators, such as:

  • Service mix
  • Tech level requirements
  • Service labor cost

Performing this analysis and reviewing the results allows for more informed business decisions to be made. For example, based on an analysis, the service mix is 60% tire and maintenance services, 30% in brake, suspension and HVAC, and the other 10% in engine diagnostics and repair. It would make sense that your service tech staff mirror the services being performed to assure service labor is in line with service sales.

The analysis also helps determine the correct tech levels needed. Many times we think we need a much higher tech level than we actually do, delivering undesirable results like inflated service labor cost, dissatisfied technicians and overall poor morale. Effective management of these indicators goes a long way in improving overall business results.

What You Offer

Your next step is to determine what your shop has to offer service employees compared to your competition. Consider wage rates, benefits, work schedule, training, and advancement opportunities.

Other areas that attract quality employees include a clean/safe/friendly workplace and necessary tools for getting the job done.

Before moving on, I must emphasize taking a long, hard look at how you compensate technicians. Over the years, I’ve had experience with hourly, hourly plus a bonus or commission, and flat rate. Each has pros and cons that must be considered.

Whatever compensation system you use, it must present a win-win-win result. Service techs must be fairly compensated for their knowledge and skills. The business must realize a reasonable ROI for continued growth and stability. And the customer must receive quality service at a fair price.

There cannot be any losers in this equation, otherwise everyone loses.

Sourcing

Newspaper classified ads used to be the chief way to find employees, but I’m not sure how many technicians look there any more. Online job postings, iATN, referrals from auto parts vendors and tool suppliers, simple word of mouth, even ad posts on your website or Facebook page are more apt to be seen today. Don’t forget to also consider returning veterans (check out recruitmilitary.com), who often come with great skills.

One option to consider is to look internally for potential candidates. If you’re looking for an A Tech, is there a B Tech ready to move up? This would mean you have taken steps to hire and develop entry-level service folks.

Based on my experience, the dealers that give people the opportunity to develop have a greater chance of retaining that individual over time. I know of several managers that got their start in this manner. Heck, I even know someone that rose to the level of CEO.

Here are some ideas for your consideration:

  • Contact high schools and colleges in your area that have an automotive technology curriculum. Get involved with SkillsUSA and NATEF. Both are great ways to locate young talent in your area who are looking for an automotive service career. Another ASE-sponsored organization that is helping develop the technicians of the future is AYES.
  • Contact technical training centers like UTI and Lincoln Tech. While you may not have a campus in your area, students come from all over the country and after graduation return home. Both schools have a program to communicate open positions in your area.

Growing a pool of quality technicians has proven to be a very effective method for many dealers, but it must become a primary focus throughout the industry. The comment I often hear from naysayers is that while tech school graduates come with a great deal of knowledge, they lack hands-on experience. This is true, but it is also the very reason why a culture that nurtures and cultivates must be developed.

Of course employing this strategy does not solve the immediate need for a higher-level tech. More traditional methods must continue to be employed.

Selection Guidelines

As with all job applicants, it’s important to have defined hiring guidelines for these important positions. Some key elements to be considered include:

  • Job specs that define knowledge, skill and ability requirements
  • A structured interview process that is consistent, includes technical questions to reveal knowledge and is behavior-based
  • Pre-employment testing of basic skills (reading, math, etc.), required technical knowledge for the position, and a determination of the individual’s ability to learn
  • Personality testing to determine how they might fit in the organization
  • Technical assessment
  • Background checks of references, job history, drug testing

Finally, don’t let the urgent need to fill an open position cloud your decision on hiring the most qualified person.

 

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