AKRON (Jan. 20, 2003)—Chris Jordan isn't a U.S. Marine Corps recruiter, but he is looking for a few good people.
He represents a core of alert people in the automotive repair industry who recognize the dire need to attract younger talent to our service bays, service desks and auto parts counters. In this column and the next one, I'll share his useful insights from the “trenches.”
Mr. Jordan has been an outside sales representative for Carquest Auto Parts in Lima, Ohio, for 12 years. He calls on 65 accounts per week that run the entire gamut of professional auto repair in and around this small industrial city in the western part of the state. To me, that experience qualifies him as an informed front-line observer.
Regular Tire Business readers know I've often discussed recruiting. When I met Mr. Jordan and our conversation turned to this topic, I realized we were speaking the same language. I thought you'd enjoy hearing this argument from a fresh voice in a different sector of our business—someone who's arguably still a kid.
After graduating from high school in 1990, Mr. Jordan went directly into the auto parts business. He readily admits to starting out with nothing more than a love of cars and lots of enthusiasm. Not only have these traits served him well since then, he maintains that successful people in every sector of our industry share them.
The first order of business, Mr. Jordan argues, is identifying and recruiting career-minded car lovers with a positive attitude. “The generations in the business are getting older—I just don't see many young people in it. It isn't presented as a glamorous industry, either,” he commented.
Ultimately, Mr. Jordan told me, our industry may get its most meaningful head start on this goal when auto service professionals get more involved with local schools, positively influencing high school guidance counselors and job-placement advisers. Convey the message early and often that there are countless opportunities for kids who like cars.
If these opinion leaders don't believe solid careers exist throughout the auto service industry, why would they recommend it to anyone? In an era of ongoing downsizing and job insecurity, Mr. Jordan said, do these opinion leaders in schools understand that jobs in our industry cannot be shipped offshore?
Meanwhile, owners and managers must stop assuming that vocational and trade schools know exactly what they're seeking in a prospective new hire. Instead of assuming, get involved with the advisory committee of a local vocational school and explain just what you want. Listening to both sides of the fence—the local auto service community as well as the local trade school—motivated Mr. Jordan to join the advisory committee of Apollo Career Center in Lima.
“Automotive instructors are dying to get input from industry people who are willing to get involved,” he said. “At the same time, business owners don't realize the impact their input can have on a school—input that ultimately im-proves the hiring situation.”
For instance, Mr. Jordan recalled coaxing two well-respected local service shop owners into participating in an advisory committee meeting. Participating simply meant explaining to the instructors the kinds of skills and attitude they needed in youngsters applying for jobs as technicians. “The school's instructors have been thanking me ever since then for getting the business community involved and talking about what they expect from a new hire,” he said.
Not only does this kind of basic industry participation improve the chances of schools producing worthwhile new hires, it also reduces the risk of the industry losing potentially useful workers. For example, some vocational school graduates get a brutal awakening when they're job hunting because they discover the school really didn't prepare them for the working world of auto repair. After several disappointments, these potentially good workers often leave the industry for good.
“We know of kids who got disgusted with bleak prospects in auto repair and ended up flipping burgers for a living. This is the kind of kid who loves the automotive industry, but he's lost. We have got to ‘capture' this type of kid before he leaves us,” Mr. Jordan explained.
Tune in to my next column, when Mr. Jordan discusses how to update our thinking about potential losers in the wrench-spinning business.