Solving major industry issues requires more ongoing effort than tire dealers and service shop operators may realize.
Revisiting an earlier commentary served as a cold reminder of how long some challenges have faced the automotive repair industry.
By "challenges," I mean four issues that never seem to fade, let alone die. These are:
- Recruiting new technicians;
- Retaining experienced techs;
- Upgrading the quality of vocational education; and
- Improving the auto repair industry's overall image.
I began reporting on this industry in 1976 and these four issues were hot topics at that time. Four decades later, they're still big challenges for tire dealers and service shop operators.
Interestingly enough, I often hear owners and managers of auto repair businesses talking as if these topics are new.
I may sound like a cranky, old know-it-all, but history offers valuable lessons. Plus, it's revealing that bosses are fighting the same battles I observed four decades ago.
While combing through some files, I came across an article I wrote 38 years ago. (I was technical editor of a national trade journal serving the professional auto repair industry.)
The theme of that issue was the future of the automotive aftermarket. Herewith are some excerpts of my reportage in November 1981.
First, I commented that: "The manpower shortage problem is still with us and will remain with us for the foreseeable future. It's nearly impossible to raise wages and overhaul the image of this entire industry overnight."
That assessment sounds like something I wrote yesterday.
Second, I predicted an exodus from the auto repair ranks. "Unfortunately, the kids coming out of vo-tech will continue taking jobs at the mill down the street rather than learn carburetors and transmissions at your shop," I observed.
Sure, carburetors are long extinct. Likely, transmission specialists are the only ones digging deeply into tranny repairs.
But the overall sentiment seems to be current: Younger folks get a taste of auto repair and then leave for other jobs — those that seem to be greener pastures than "wrenching" on cars. (Yes, fewer mills are operating today.)
Third, I said, "If there are any simple, snappy solutions to this problem, we aren't aware of them. In the long run, though, we'll need thousands of individual commitments from shop owners, jobbers, WDs and manufacturers. They'll have to commit themselves to taking advantage of whatever apprenticeship programs are available to them."
Fourth, I predicted, "No (training/recruitment) program will work without thousands of unheralded, unthanked individual efforts by the good guys in this business.
Make your best effort at keeping an eager young guy in the business — even if you do have to show him everything yourself."
Now, consider how vital vaccinations have nearly eliminated certain diseases. When I was very young, many of us knew families affected by polio. Consequently, it was a big deal when we kids lined up for the polio vaccine. Today, polio is relatively rare.
Unfortunately, no one's developed a quick, easy inoculation against the four industry "ailments" I cited. If conquering these challenges was so easy, everyone in the auto repair business would have done so long ago.
During the nearly three decades I have worked this page, I have stressed that changes usually occur slowly, incrementally. It requires solid effort from all service personnel — not just the bosses.
If everyone does nothing else, diagnose and repair each job correctly the first time. Repeat this success day in, day out. Eventually, this cumulative effort boosts your business' credibility and customer loyalty.
What's more, these successes help bosses create the work atmosphere that attracts and retains competent, reliable employees — as opposed to auto repair's proverbial "guns for hire."
Last but not least, involve yourself in vocational schools' operation.
If you don't, then don't complain about the prospective hires the schools generate.