What was the single biggest issue facing the automotive repair industry within the last decade? If I had to pick one I'd have to cite technician recruitment as both the biggest issue and most serious challenge to tire dealers and service shop owners everywhere. Meanwhile, the most encouraging trend I see is the commitment more and more service shop owners and tire dealers are making to keeping good help and recruiting new talent.
For readers' information, this past October marks the 10th year I've been writing Tire Business' automotive service column. While discussing (perhaps lamenting?) this milestone with me, Assistant Managing Editor/Senior Reporter Sigmund J. Mikolajczyk challenged me to choose the biggest news item of the last 10 years. It didn't take long for me to pick technician recruitment.
If you are a new reader of this column or unfamiliar with my background, I'm a former tech and service writer. I also have a journalism degree and have been reporting on the auto repair industry since 1976.
For the last seven years, I've been doing technical training nationwide. This work puts me in direct contact with hundreds of owners, managers and technicians every year.
Everywhere I go, technician recruitment, followed by tech retention, are always hot topics. Owners and managers of all types of automotive service facilities often ask about finding mature, competent help as well as recruiting fresh, young talent.
The automotive repair workforce—depending upon your viewpoint—is either old, mature or both. The average age of a technician today is about 42-43 years old. I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist to realize we need to recruit as much new talent as possible. Furthermore, many bosses are begging for capable people for service writing and parts department positions, too.
The increasing complexity and sophistication of modern vehicles has only underscored the value of capable and professional technicians. To be blunt, neither high-school counselors nor service shop owners can assume that rejects from a school's academic program are capable of making the grade simply because they're good with their hands.
The complexity of today's vehicles requires techs who can read and comprehend technical literature. Equally important, our business demands techs that can think on their feet.
A newsworthy and, frankly, heartwarming consequence of the technician shortage is the creative ways progressive bosses are finding to keep good help.
More and more service shop owners I meet are giving their star technicians a stake in the business to prevent them from jumping ship. After evaluating the tech in question for 10 to 15 years, these owners feel they have too much invested in mature, reliable workers to let them go elsewhere. The bottom line: Making the star tech a minority partner makes everyone happy and strengthens the business.
In other cases, I've seen the boss help a good tech when the man's family is down on its luck due to illnesses, personal tragedies etc. The owner rewards the tech's ability by co-signing a loan for a much-needed larger house or new car. Again, everyone wins and everyone's happy.
It's encouraging to see an owner or manager recognize that losing good help reflects a lack of leadership or simply shortsighted, uncreative leadership.
To be sure, some techs are born to be nomads. But that said, readers should pay close attention to the owner whose techs have been with him for an average of 10 years in a healthy, thriving business.
What's more, regular readers probably recall that I've cited various ways owners and managers are improving recruitment via participation on vocational school advisory boards, hosting trade fairs, sponsoring training and more. The results aren't solving the manpower shortage overnight, but they're certainly making headway.
Finally, I'm pleased to meet more and more bosses who treat auto repair the way it should be treated: as a professional career for proud individuals. They recognize that we're not greasy kid stuff anymore.
In a major metropolitan market, these fellows realize it can take $60,000 to $75,000 per year, plus benefits, to keep some techs. That ain't hay!