ORLANDO, Fla.—It probably can't be said enough: Automotive service technician training is critical—not only to customer satisfaction, but to keeping techs happy, as well.
On a recent day, Josh McFarlin finishes a frame-straightening job on a Ford Expedition and begins to tackle an engine repair on an F-150. He likes the challenge, crediting his ability to solve some of the toughest jobs to his intensive technician training.
With more than 600 hours of training and testing in body repair, engine performance, suspension and other categories, Mr. McFarlin, 25, qualifies as a senior master technician. Two years out of trade school, he earns $38,000 a year at Greenway Ford in Orlando, Fla. But within 20 years, his pay could shoot up to $80,000.
But pay isn't necessarily everything, as the automotive repair industry has begun to realize.
Car dealers and auto makers, faced with a technician shortage and customer satisfaction pressures, are finding that incentive and reward programs that recognize the best of the best are important, too.
"When the corporation takes time to say it cares about us," Mr. McFarlin said, "it makes me glad I chose this profession."
Dave McClain, Ford Motor Co.'s technician career development and recognition manager, observed: "Recruiting, training and retaining technicians is critical to customer satisfaction."
Ford rewards high-performing technicians, such as Mr. McFarlin, with entry into its Professional Technician Society, a 20-member group that is handpicked by regional service managers who advise Ford on policies and incentives for technicians. They make two trips to Michigan, touring factories and meeting executives.
Ford also recently announced a new Ford-AAA student/technician auto skills challenge, which will take place June 18. For the contest, technicians compete regionally and nationally on vehicles intentionally bugged by the auto maker with the same malfunction.
The first-place winner will get a two-year lease on a Ford Expedition or equivalent Lincoln Mercury vehicle, $6,000 cash and $10,000 in tools.
In all, Ford plans to give out $450,000 in cash and prizes.
Vocational students also compete for prizes and meet car dealers who could become their employers.
Other companies have similar programs:
DaimlerChrysler A.G. ties technician recognition into total dealership incentives for customer satisfaction. High achievers in testing in various skill categories earn $100 clothing certificates and plaques with diamond studs for each year they qualify.
The winner of Toyota Motor Sales Co.'s technician challenge gets a trip to Japan.
All 26,x000 General Motors Corp. technicians are eligible for the GM Mark of Excellence incentives, worth $500 in merchandise, 500 engraved business cards and a diamond ring. Participants compete in individual skills and overall information gathering techniques. The GM Service Technical College oversees the process.
"Our goal is...the ability to fix a vehicle right the first time. The outcome is generating better revenue for dealerships and more satisfied customers," said Tracy Burns, GM's recognition manager for service.