The “Coming” Technician Shortage in the Automotive Industry
By Robert Stage, Service Director, Germain Jaguar Land Rover of Easton
As of late, I have seen many posts on LinkedIn that decry the technician shortage that we face in the automotive industry.
I have some observations that my 28 years in the industry have given me some perspective and insight on how we’ve arrived here and how to be successful going forward for our businesses.
The general health of the industry where it concerns technician shortages was bad when I started 26 years ago as a technician apprentice, and it has only gotten worse.
For years it has been promoted that everyone in school should get a college degree, and focus on those that work with their hands shifted and has been lost and ignored.
The pride of being able to fix and maintain machinery, in general, has been lost. The same is true for being able to diagnose and repair electrical systems, electronics, engine management, drivetrain, mobile HVAC systems etc.
This skill set is being taught less and less even in our vocational systems across the US. Enough about that, if you’re reading this, you should be quite aware of where we are at. How do we move forward on an action plan to repair the system and fill our service shops again for clients?
Here are just a few ways…
A better way forward
As dealer principals, chief operating officers, general managers, fixed operation directors, and service directors, we need to run to the schools and do our part to support local programs in the interest of the industry that we love, not in our own interests. We need to do it because it is just the right thing to do.
Now what that looks like on an individual basis I don’t know, but we can be volunteering our time and resources more than we do currently, donate a used vehicle to the local tech program at a vocational school or college automotive program.
Volunteer to speak at a career day as early as middle school. Donate monies to purchase tools, offer more comprehensive student shadow days at our service drives and shops. Are you involved in your local technical schools?
If the answer is no, I encourage you to reach out and join an advisory board, volunteer, get involved in the lives of our future, invest in them. It is our job to make repairing and maintaining automobiles popular and dare I say sexy again. It is our job to educate upcoming students why they would want to enter this industry, I’m not sure we’ve done ourselves any favors in this area.
Secondly, understand just what it is your looking for, what we are asking of individuals and the subsequent challenges.
A solid, successful, technician is someone who exhibits these skills and personality traits: they are detectives like Sherlock Holmes, have technical ability like Nikola Tesla, think like an Albert Einstein and have the temperament of Jesus. Let that sink in for a moment.
We need them to be experts in physics, latent heat, fluid dynamics, electronic and electrical principles, industrial engineering, computer sciences and communicate their findings to the layperson and have integrity with a heart for what is best for our client guests that pay our bills and give us our existence. That perfect automotive technician almost doesn’t exist, but when you find one, hang on to them!
What to do once we hire them
Treat them like gold. That doesn’t mean let them run your business by fear and renegotiating their pay every six months. Here is what it does mean. Train them, both in personal development and technical ability. Cultivate a culture of continuous improvement, cultivate a culture of high achievers and one that does not reward those who don’t live out the companies core values and go the extra mile for the clients.
Ask for and listen to their departmental input. Understand what the skill is worth on your team and pay technicians at or above market value.
I am lucky enough to be involved with a great company in the automotive industry that has an excellent mission statement “Our Mission is to attract, develop, and retain exceptional people to deliver an outstanding experience that creates loyalty beyond reason, one customer at a time.”
This doesn’t just encompass corporate or salespeople, we teach this to everyone, including technicians.
We pay at or above market value because the clients deserve the very best. I have seen this technician and employer relationship play out any number of ways, mostly to the negative for the technician and positive for the dealership. Relationships really need to be more equal and amicable for both parties, especially where financial compensation and benefits are concerned.
How to attract the very best technicians
Be. The. Best. And ABR.
If you are the best in your market and treat employees well, you will attract the best. And ABR, just like the “Always Be Closing” speech in Glengarry Glenross that Alec Baldwin so perfectly gave life to, we have to Always Be Recruiting!
If you train your people to always have their eyes and ears open, you would be amazed at how many people you can recruit, not just technicians. Advertise on the back of your parts van like we do that you are hiring the very best technicians, don’t just post another ad on Indeed or Glassdoor that may net you a mediocre candidate, put together a strategic plan to recruit the very best.
Do it early and often, just like training is something that we do and not what we did, recruiting talented people is the same, it’s an ongoing endeavor, it’s what we do, not something we “did”.
PUT THE COFFEE DOWN! COFFEES ARE FOR THOSE WHO CAN CLOSE A RECRUIT!
Also, be a team builder, if you were honest with yourself, your team probably has a weak link on it now, war game in your mind what it would look like to replace your "5" technician with a "9" technician. Think out of the box, recruit on Instagram, Reddit, LinkedIn and Facebook, and from other industries. It’s a safe bet that a heavy truck or bus technician can pivot their skill set to repair a one-ton light truck or sedan. And vice versa.
Use predictive employment testing to place the proper person to the proper task. I hired a Peterbilt technician once to be an auto and light truck technician, he was an excellent fit and did a great job. Did I get lucky? Maybe, but I interviewed him rigorously and asked the right questions, he was a natural talent guy. I am just saying don’t paint yourself into a corner just because the candidate doesn’t have the “background” you were “looking” for.
The law of multiplication….
After you do these things listed above:
Make one hire turn into two, and two into four, so on and so forth. Always try to leverage one hire into more hires. Technicians sometimes are like bananas, they roll in bunches. When I was a technician I always knew a couple of other reputable and skilled technicians across town or in another business.
Leverage your relationships to garner the very best for your business and your clients.
If this has been an enjoyable read and has helped in your decision making concerning your technician plight, feel free to like and share throughout your social media platforms.
Robert E. Stage, Jr. is the Service Director at Germain Jaguar Land Rover of Easton and a 28-year veteran of the retail automotive industry. He can be reached on LinkedIn here.
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