"Our industry doesn't nurture its young. Our industry eats its young." That quote by RLO Training President Dan Gilley is abrasive — but in many ways, true.
Mr. Gilley and Jennifer Maher, CEO of TechForce Foundation, participated in Tire Business' Feb. 2 Livestream, "Tackling the Technician Shortage," and provided viewers with statistics, anecdotes and advice on how the automotive aftermarket can change its ways to nurture and grow the pool of automotive technicians. (A recording of the livestream is available on tirebusiness.com).
For years, tire dealers have lamented the difficulty in finding qualified technicians to fill job openings. Baby Boomers are continuing to retire, opening up even more jobs in repair shops
TechForce is a non-profit that promotes careers in the vehicle service industry by offering information and resources to students and parents. RLO provides training for automotive repair shops to improve their operations.
But there seems to be a disconnect between these two spheres. While the industry is trying to encourage young people to apply their mechanical and computer skills for a promising technician career, once those kids get an entry-level job at a repair shop, they are often stuck on the lube rack and forgotten.
Without a quality mentor, additional training, competitive pay, a means to afford a tool set and a structured career path for advancement, young techs get discouraged, quit and take their much-desired skills to another industry.
It's time for the shops to change their old ways of doing things in order to solve the problem.
Yes, it will require time and investment on the shop owners' part — yet aren't they already spending money (or losing money) and time trying to fill job vacancies now?
The first step, according to our livestream panelists, is that shop owners should build connections with a local high school or community college to continually promote auto technician careers and mentor potential employees.
Offer competitive pay and benefits. If a shop can't afford to increase its pay rate, then raise labor rates to customers. Mr. Gilley contended that consumers are willing to pay high hourly rates for plumbers, electricians and other skilled workers.
The labor rate for auto repair hasn't kept up with inflation — shouldn't consumers pay an appropriate rate for a skilled and trained technician to work on their increasingly high-tech vehicles? Mr. Gilley said shops must decide if they want to emulate the Walmart discount chain or Nordstrom's high-end, respected stores.
Update the workplace. Maintain a clean and attractive facility, inside and outside, where people would want to come to work (and buy services); create an employee lounge or area where co-workers can relax and mingle; and provide updated equipment and tools so technicians can do their jobs efficiently.
Create a positive, attractive business culture. Establish activities and meetings where employees can interact, provide suggestions and feel like they are a valued member of the company; show appreciation on a regular basis; recognize employees' accomplishments through awards, bonuses or gifts; offer more benefits, such as flexible work schedules, retirement plans, health insurance and bonuses.Create a customized career path for each employee. Sit down with employees and learn what their career goals are; create steps/requirements needed to achieve a goal; offer training and mentoring to learn new skills; and reward accomplishments with advancement and a pay raise.
This isn't a once-and-done effort but an established way of running a business to attract new talent and to keep the talent already working at the shop.
As Ms. Maher said, the younger generation entering the workforce has no qualms about sharing their impressions and work experiences on social media. So it's important shop owners make their workplaces and their business culture attractive enough to brag about.