You're not alone if you feel like every time you get a new hire trained, he or she leaves the business. It is a problem echoing across the U.S. retail tire industry.
And it may be the "new norm," according to one expert who studies hiring trends in the industry.
Low unemployment — 3.6% in January, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) — has changed the identity of the entry-level workforce.
According to the latest BLS jobs report, more new jobs are available, the amount of time workers are unemployed is shrinking, and the percentage of workers switching jobs is growing.
The availability of jobs allows a new generation of young workers to "window shop" — or try their hand at a number of jobs until they find something they like.
A job, not a career
New tire technicians are hard to keep long term, a handful of tire dealers told Tire Business, because many entry-level applicants don't see the work as a career.
It used to be understood that you entered the field at the bottom and worked your way up, according to Leonard Humphries, owner and operator of Humphries Tire Center in Lockhart, Texas, about 30 miles south of Austin.
"Now, (young employees) say, 'I am doing it because I need a job,'" Mr. Humphries said. "A lot of the younger guys don't see it as a career and don't see (starting at the bottom) as a chance to rise up in the company."
When you see your position as a job, and not a career, it is easy to compare it with any other job out there based solely on wages and work schedule, and there likely is less thought on where the work can get an employee in the future, according to analysts.
Low starting wages
Mike Cioffi, founder of industry recruiter Tire Talent.com, said a big issue for the industry is that entry-level pay is not high enough to separate technician positions from others that don't require a specific skill set.
"Anytime you're in that (pay) range, and you have that specific skill set your looking for, employers need to ask: 'What else exists? Where am I losing (potential employees) to? Where else is that skill set valued?' " Mr. Cioffi said.
The BLS estimates average technician pay at $18.42 per hour, but experienced technicians, especially if they are acquiring new certifications, can make much more.
But starting pay is a different story.
According to documents published by TechForce Foundation, which supports initiatives to help students pursue technician careers, the average starting pay for transportation technicians is around $11 to $15 an hour, depending on the type of work. TechForce notes many young people are turned off by these numbers, because they don't see how they could rise in the future.
Mr. Humphries admits more of his time goes to training new employees than he can recall in the past.
He and his wife operate Humphries Tires with seven employees. He got his start in the tire business at a young age, working in his family's chain of Austin, Texas, repair shops.
Five of the employees have been with the business for several years. In fact, two of his inspectors once worked at his family's Austin shops.
Most of Humphries Tires' business consists of doing agriculture tire repairs at farms and ranches, as well as repairs for commercial businesses around the area. Because of the mobile aspect of the shop, being able to trust his employees is a top concern, Mr. Humphries said.
He or his top technician will spend weeks with a new hire until they are confident in the hiree's ability to do the job.
"They come and they go," Mr. Humphries said. "You can train them up and then all of the sudden they find something else. Or they lose interest.
"You think 'this guy is good,' and as soon as you get them to a good point, they leave."
The 'new norm'
Mr. Cioffi of Tire Talent said it's time for the industry to accept high turnover is here to stay.
"Because we are always hiring, and we are always training, we need to understand this is a new norm," Mr. Cioffi said, pointing to the shipping industry as one that already has accepted this new reality and adjusted how it hires because of it.
Marco Mejia, owner of three Embassy Tire & Wheel locations in Tucson, Ariz., said it's just the nature of the business today.
"(High turnover) is one of the biggest things we are facing right now," Mr. Mejia said. "I tell my team, 'Get as many people in the door as you can, train them, teach them and get them working.' Because we are losing people faster than we can get them in."
He said young workers today "are a totally different breed."
"They don't want to put the work in … but they all want hours," he said. "And you can't have the one without the other.
"For 25 years, I've done it for six days a week, but trying to get these other men to understand what it takes, … they aren't sure where they are fitting in and how they want to build a career out of it."
Mr. Mejia said he spends a lot more one-on-one time with new employees, but he is often stretched thin balancing training with running the rest of his business.
"I try to put in as much time with them as I can, (but) I can only do so much," he said.
Keeping good employees
"There's not going to be a silver bullet answer," Jeff Wallick, director of training at wholesale company K&M Tire Inc., said. "But there are a series of things that companies can do to keep people."
The Ohio-based wholesaler, which employs around 800, has had similar high turnover among its entry-level staff, especially in the warehouses, Mr. Wallick said, adding the company is very much in tune with the technician issues facing their customers.
Giving employees a measurable way to show career progression is important, he said. He talked about implementing a tier system based on metrics that would give an employee a tangible goal to pursue — when they hit those metrics, they rise and their pay goes up.
Mr. Wallick said annual evaluations are important, too.
"Bring each employee in and let them know they are appreciated, and the work they do really matters," he said. "Tell them, 'Here's what you do well, and here's what you could do better.'"
Messrs. Humphries and Mejia said at their shops, they offer pay incentives as their employees gain experience — often giving them an added percentage of each job they complete.
"I really feel I pay fair (wages), but at the same time, I understand they are specialists," Mr. Humphries said.