ATLANTA-What is one of the biggest ongoing problems facing tire and automotive service shops, aside from profitability? The real chart topper seems to be finding-then holding onto-trained technicians. The fact is that a good technician can help boost profitability as much as a bad one can hinder it.
That's the belief of Ted Wiens Jr., the new president of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, who spoke at the NTDRA's ``Breakfast with the President,'' during its convention and trade show in Atlanta Sept. 5-7.
Apparently, good techs can be as scarce as four leaf clovers. The constantly revolving employment door at some dealerships and service shops hardly slows, as some skilled workers don't stay long enough to lend stability to what has become a somewhat transient occupation.
Mr. Wiens' comments were in deference to owners' frequent complaints that their shops are little more than a training ground for technicians who get some experience under their tool belts, then move on to another shop that pays more.
``With the complexities and technologies of the automobile of the future,'' said Mr. Wiens, owner of Las Vegas-based Ted Wiens Tire and Auto Centers, ``*`Good Old Barney' or `Joe the Wrench' just won't cut it. Where will your next master mechanic come from?''
``You cannot continue to steal them away from your competitors.*.*.*or suppliers,'' he warned tire dealers. ``There is a great scarcity of trained workers, and it's getting worse, not better.''
He then illustrated that assessment with a story about his own search for good help:
``I had a 20 year-old from the (local) community college program apply for a job,'' Mr. Wiens related. ``He asked how much I paid my mechanics. I told him I had a master technician that made $75,000 last year. His eyes lit up! Then he said: `I'd be willing to start for around $50,000.'*''
Mr. Wiens said after he got himself up ``off the floor, we toured my shop. This poor kid had been trained on points and condenser tune-ups, drum brakes and A-frame suspensions.
``Not only was he not worth $50,000-he wasn't worth anything to me!''
In a quest to remedy that situation-and prepare good technicians-Mr. Wiens, along with other Las Vegas tire dealers, car dealers and auto repair facilities, have formed a working relationship with a vocational high school and a local community college.
Together, they've begun developing new, more modern and up-to-date course curricula. New equipment also has been purchased or donated.
Now, with the industry's help, the schools are teaching electronics and anti-lock braking systems. And the job applicants have improved. ``Even the mid-term students are employable,'' Mr. Wiens said, ``(though) maybe still not at $50,000.''
The schools have launched an apprentice program beginning with high school juniors who work part-time for two years, and can earn enough to attend college for an associate degree.
``We employ eight each year,'' Mr. Wiens said, ``and believe me, my competitors are trying to steal my employees.
``I am hoping NTDRA can facilitate the spread of programs like this one. Surely we can pass along these kinds of stories.''
He urged dealers to contact and work with their local vocational high schools and/or community colleges to upgrade their programs in order to better prepare students for not only vehicle electronics but other future automotive trends, as well.
``Their equipment also must be upgraded,'' he said of the schools. ``Suppliers, did you take note? You must come to the program, too. If you expect me to buy your latest equipment, I must have someone to run it,'' he added.
``What would it be like to have thousands of techs trained on your equipment across the nation?''
When making buying decisions, Mr. Wiens said he consults ``the people that work that equipment. Suppliers, I sure hope you're listening.''