AKRON (Oct. 11, 2004) — Now is the time for all providers of automotive service to ask themselves tough questions about recruiting and retaining good technicians.
After doing some sincere self-evaluation, they should take steps—however incremental they may be—to relieve the industry's manpower shortage. After all, long journeys always begin with the first step.
I'm also urging Tire Business readers to tell me what they have learned firsthand about recruiting and retaining good workers. This column can be your conduit to fellow owners and managers, sharing those techniques that have or have not worked for you.
Anniversaries are always good times to reflect on issues and the progress we're making on those issues. This month marks 15 years that I've been writing this column for TB. After mulling over the day's issues, I realized the top priority at this juncture ought to be technician recruitment. Although we've come a long way in the last 15 years, we still have a long way to go.
Regular readers know I've been doing technical training nationwide for nearly 12 years. My work keeps me on the road as much as 180-200 days per year. Consequently, I'm face to face with countless owners, managers and technicians across the country. By and large, I'm still hearing the same questions I heard 15 years ago.
For instance, bosses ask where they can find competent technicians who also are reliable employees. Sadly, many techs have been asking if I know of a decent place where they'll be respected and where they can build a career. There's a big difference between just having a job and building a career.
Worse yet, when I ask a boss how local automotive educational programs are going, the news is bleak. I'm often told that schools of all kinds are curtailing or canceling auto repair curricula due to low enrollments.
Certainly there have been bright spots. As I've reported in previous columns, the last 15 years has seen a big emphasis on schools acquiring National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) certification. Simply put, achieving that goal means improving both staff and facility. Some vehicle manufacturers have set up satellite training programs at various trade schools and NATEF certification has been a prerequisite for their programs. Some trade associations are working hard to attract young people to this industry.
But the battle's far from won. Understandably, many of these programs steer the graduates toward new-car dealership jobs. Also, keep in mind that the average age of auto repair technicians has been greater than 40 years old for some years now. This reinforces something my boss taught me nearly 25 years ago: “There are smart mechanics and there are old mechanics,” he said. “But there are no smart, old mechanics.”
There are two telltale questions tire dealers and service shop operators rarely ask themselves. First, why would a bright young person want to come into this industry? Second, why would they want to work for me? The answers explain our manpower shortage.
So let's begin our self-evaluation right now. Walk out to the edge of your property, look at the facility and write down all the reasons why it will attract eager workers.
Next, patrol the inside of your service department and list all the reasons why both novice and experienced techs would want to spend the majority of their waking hours there.
Then write down why your business should be the home to career-minded techs of all ages. Be sure to detail the benefit package that appeals so strongly to techs raising families.
Wait, I'm not finished. Take that same notepad of yours and tour the nearest schools that offer automotive training programs. Perhaps you could snap some pictures, too. But once again, detail all the reasons why the school's lecture rooms and workshops would appeal to prospective students—not to mention the prospect's parents. Readers, I await your replies!
Meantime, I'm truly honored to have this slot in every issue of Tire Business. I'm thrilled to hear that so many of you find the discussions and advice so useful at your businesses. Please keep the channels open because it's only meaningful when you're involved.
Finally, Godspeed to those of you who work so hard to make us proud!