Troubleshooting Tech Retention
Recruiting, Training and Compensation All Part of the Equation
Finding qualified technicians to work in your shop is not always easy. Because today’s cars are more technically advanced, you will want to find technicians who are trained to repair these smart cars.
According to the Technician Retention Guidelines by the Automotive Training Managers Council (ATMC), there’s a shortage of skilled technicians because fewer people are entering the automotive repair industry.
ATMC found that some factors influencing people’s decision not to go into this industry include:
- The need for more advanced reading and math skills required to diagnose today’s computerized cars
- Fewer secondary and post-secondary vocational training programs
- A perception that technicians are just "grease monkeys"
- A perceived poor working environment that doesn’t match with the reality of today’s more progressive shops
- The limited number of apprentice programs to develop new technicians.
So, this puts the dealer at a disadvantage because the number of available, qualified technicians is not growing in tandem with the aftermarket’s need. But, there are ways to battle the supply shortage and staff your shop with skilled technicians. And keep them there.
Recruit Heavily and Always
With the shortage of skilled technicians, it is important to proactively recruit. ATMC recommends actively recruiting even if you don’t have a current opening. Having an active file of qualified applicants will be helpful if you are ever need to hire someone immediately.
There are several ways to build your active file of skilled techs.
One of the most effective methods, according to one service shop owner, is word of mouth. "The last tech I hired, I stole from another place," he said. "I use word of mouth to find out who isn’t happy and try to accommodate their needs."
On the other hand, another independent shop owner said he’s had the most success with newspaper advertising, feeling ads reach more people, and give him a better selection of prospects.
Many shop owners have also tried hiring technicians from local vocational schools. But the problem with using vo-tech schools is finding a technician who is "motivated and has an affinity for this type of work," one owner said. The other problem is the decreasing number of vocational schools in the U.S.
But, there are other ways you can successfully recruit technicians. In fact, ATMC offers some new ideas in regards to recruiting:
- Develop a brochure to promote your shop
- Get more involved with the local high schools and consider offering scholarships for promising students
- Participate in job fairs, work with school counselors, and hold open houses and customer appreciation events at your shop
- Realize that your compensation plan should be competitive with other repair facilities and dealerships in the area, and promote that plan to potential employees
Hiring the Right Person
The first thing to do is create a job description for the position you’re filling. A written statement of what the job entails will allow you to better communicate to potential employees exactly what their responsibilities will be. This leaves little chance for misunderstanding once the technician joins your team.
Job descriptions also spell out what expectations you have regarding an applicant’s knowledge, skills and abilities. Just by reading the job description, applicants will know whether they are qualified to fill the position.
The application you use can also help you get more in-depth information about the applicant. You can make up your own (be careful not to violate any federal, state or local laws when doing so) or get one at a local office supply store.
Once you weed your applicant list down, make sure to check each finalist’s references and verify all work history, including any periods of time the applicant did not list employment. If you have problems getting information from references the applicant lists, don’t be discouraged. This is a problem experienced by a many employers in today’s business and legal environment.
Provide Solid Training
The importance of training can’t be stressed enough. Customers expect you to fix their cars right the first time, so it’s expected that technicians remain up-to-date on their technical knowledge and skills.
"Progressive dealers understand this and are in-tune with the training needs of his staff, as well as the training resources available to meet those needs," the ATMC guidelines explain.
"Rather than viewing training as an expense – a far too common attitude in the repair industry – they look at training as an investment just like traditional investments in new equipment and facilities."
Shop owners said that on-going training is required for their techs. But each handles training differently.
The techs at one shop attend formal training at least once a year, and do so during their normal work hours so their personal time is not affected. Informal training is conducted on an on-going basis throughout the year.
Another dealer sends his techs to classes anytime they become available in his area. But because each of his three technicians specializes in a different area, he only sends them to classes that are relevant to their specialty. He also tries to send only one tech to training at a time so he doesn’t have to work understaffed.
According to ATMC, self-study is the most cost-effective training method. Self-study usually consists of a video accompanied by a workbook. Or it can be a PC-based CD-ROM program. The downside to this type of program is that there is no hands-on training involved.
The next step up the training ladder is instructor-led training, a fairly expensive but very effective method. These can be stand-alone subjects or part of a series designed to move a technician from journeyman to advanced level.
And don’t forget the extensive training and certification program offered by the ASE. Certifications and advanced instruction available through ASE not only improves the knowledge and capability of your staff, but consumers recognize the value of ASE certification.
Also, investigate training options offered by manufacturers, technical diagnostic hotline services and trade publications.
Keeping Them at Your Shop
After you’ve decided who to hire and it’s clear that the technician is going to work out, how can you keep him employed with you?
Adding to the compensation package is also something shop owners see as important. One just recently added a pension plan as an incentive for them to stay.
It’s a good idea to beef up your entire compensation package, not just salary, to stay competitive in today’s marketplace. There’s no doubt that money plays a big part in a technician’s decision to stay with a particular shop, but benefits, such as medical, dental and paid vacation are also big factors.
Another owner said he lets his technicians know that he realizes they have responsibilities and family obligations outside of work, and that those obligations are equally important.