AKRON (Feb. 3, 2003)—Part of the solution to our industry's manpower shortage is retaining as many viable younger prospects as practically possible. However, achieving this goal means rethinking how we evaluate aspiring young technicians, an automotive parts salesman told Tire Business.
In my last column, we got firsthand accounts of the personnel recruiting and retention challenges from Chris Jordan, a sales representative for Carquest Auto Parts in Lima, Ohio. Mr. Jordan, who has been doing outside sales for 12 years, got into the auto parts business right out of high school. I think his insights into the issues show a street smartness and awareness that go far beyond his relatively young age.
I finished up the last column with Mr. Jordan emphasizing the need to “capture” enthusiastic, car-loving younger people. Too often, these individuals don't readily find their niche in this business. Discouraged and/or disgusted, they leave an industry that's begging for good help. For example, some aspiring but green techs find they either aren't cut out to make it as a tech, or they discover that their vocational education didn't really prepare them for the cold, hard working world. These kids often ended up at fast-food joints, he explained.
Mr. Jordan argues that to retain more prospective employees, everyone in the automotive service sector—especially vocational instructors and guidance counselors—must grow beyond the “wrench-spinner” mentality. Traditionally, when kids enter automotive repair training programs, their training focuses them almost entirely on their ability to spin wrenches quickly and efficiently. Simply put, speed and dexterity rule.
But by graduation time, any instructor worth his salt can probably tell which kids will be most likely to succeed out in the world and which ones won't. Like lesser-skilled athletes, they simply don't make the team and then leave the sport. People shrug their shoulders and lament that the individual just wasn't cut out for the work, Mr. Jordan said.
I commend Mr. Jordan's insights because his assessment from the streets of a small Ohio city really reflects what I've always seen in my travels throughout the industry. “Over the years, I've talked to a lot of automotive students. Most of these kids have no idea, for example, of what I do. They have no idea how many opportunities there are for them in the parts supply side of the business,” Mr. Jordan said.
If they aren't cut out to be real wrench-spinners, these kids could put their technical training and enthusiasm to excellent use in the auto parts business or behind a service writer's desk, Mr. Jordan observed. Therefore, instead of labeling these kids losers, the educational system and the industry need to redirect them to other areas of the business such as parts and service sales.
In my last column, Mr. Jordan stressed the importance of service personnel getting involved with the advisory board of local schools that have automotive training programs. They can have a relatively immediate impact by urging teachers and administrators to update their thinking about our industry and the range of opportunities within it. Tradesmen can impress upon the schools that organizations ranging from ASE all the way up to the vehicle manufacturers themselves promote the concept that auto repair is more than simply turning wrenches or bustin' tires.
All educators, especially guidance counselors, need to understand the entire picture. For example, competent auto parts professionals are essential to a repair shop's success. When they don't get the correct part and get it quickly, shop productivity nosedives. A shop can't make money waiting for parts, Mr. Jordan explained.
Furthermore, the best wrench-spinners in the world can't make money unless they have knowledgeable service sales people up front who know how to collect vital vehicle histories from motorists and deal with “people” problems. They also should know the art of selling value and selling what the vehicle really needs, he said.
Follow Mr. Jordan's example by updating your view of young, would-be technicians. Then, instead of just complaining about the industry's state of affairs, follow his example by joining an advisory committee in your neighborhood and exerting a positive influence.