The shortage of good technicians is a fact of life in the auto repair industry. Combined with the high rate of employee turnover in the average shop, it is a virtual certainty that you will need to hire new technicians at some point in the near future.
When it does come time to hire, what should you look for in a new tech? And how do you find the best techs out there? Let’s take a look at what it takes to get great techs that will be a credit to your shop’s reputation, as well as your bottom line!
It’s a tough market out there
The independent auto repair industry is facing a perfect storm when it comes to hiring technicians. It’s truly a difficult situation:
- Older techs are retiring in large numbers, creating vacancies and a loss of in-shop knowledge.
- There were only 37,400 graduates of post-secondary automotive tech training programs in 2017, which was lower than the previous year, and is much less than half of what the automotive service industry needs on an annual basis.
- Half of all entry-level technicians from certified auto tech programs leave their jobs at independent shops and dealerships within two years.
- 30% of all techs leave their jobs each year.
- Many high schools have cut their auto tech programs because of high costs.
- Many for-profit colleges have eliminated their auto programs due to financial problems.
- Students and their parents do not see the field as an attractive career path.
- Dealerships and nationwide service chains are grabbing entry-level techs as they graduate from technical schools
- Most current techs would not recommend this career to their friends.
- Related fields like transit systems, airlines, railroads, airport ground services equipment, oil field equipment, and boating will pay much more and provide more balance.
Meanwhile, there are more and more registered vehicles on US roads than ever – over 270 million at last count. And the average age of those vehicles is around 12 years. That’s an awful lot of vehicles that need servicing and repairs on an ongoing basis. Your shop needs to be fully staffed with qualified techs to get your fair share of these vehicles in and out of your service bays – smoothly, efficiently, and profitably.
What to look for when hiring a tech
Your current staff of techs is likely to have good basic skills, along with some specialties that vary from person to person. This lets you assign certain complex projects to those with experience, in that specific area. It also gives these “specialists” the opportunity to share their unique skills with other techs in a teaching role, broadening your entire staff’s knowledge base.
If you need an entry-level person that you are willing to mentor in the ways of your shop and its culture, that’s one thing. But if you need someone who can jump in and work on the increasing numbers of vehicles with advanced driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking, you need someone with that specific knowledge and experience.
With this in mind, sit down and make a list of your techs, along with their strengths and any weaknesses. Unless you are going with an entry-level tech, your new tech or techs should have the skills your shop needs more of. These specific skills should be part of the job description. Think of your techs as a “team,” capable of handling any task needed to keep your customers’ cars running. All necessary repair and service skills should be present among your shop’s team members.
Tips for hiring entry-level techs
When you are looking for young techs to start at the bottom and work their way up, it’s as much about attitude as experience (which they won’t have much of). Over time, you and your staff can create a great tech out of any qualified candidate who is willing to put in the work and learn the ropes. It all starts with selecting the best young techs available.
Involve your shop with local technical school programs
The best place to look for entry-level techs is among the soon-to-be-graduates of the various high schools, community colleges, and technical schools in your community with auto repair programs. For the best selection of the most promising candidates, develop a relationship with one or more of these programs in advance. Some strategies for getting “the pick of the litter” include:
- Working closely with these schools by becoming a sponsor or joining an advisory board
- Starting an internship or apprenticeship program in your shop, so you can groom prospects before graduation, see who the best candidates are, and then hire them
- Hosting open houses at your shop, where you can invite students to meet your staff and see your shop
- Attending career days and job fairs, where you can present the benefits of tech careers in your shop to students
If you’ve done your homework properly, you will have chosen to ally yourself with a program that turns out qualified entry-level techs who thoroughly know the basics, and who are well-prepared and eager to expand their field of knowledge. Select the smartest graduates who can work well with others and you will be well positioned for the future!
Reach out to young tech prospects by using their media
Your prospective young techs aren’t watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading the newspaper – they are getting their information online. Put your shop and your hiring message in front of them by using as many of these techniques as you can:
- Place creative, appealing job ads on Craigslist and other job sites
- Have an updated website with a contemporary look and feel, as well as a highly visible button for tech job prospects to apply for a job directly through the site
- Improve your website’s search ratings with SEO (get outside help)
- Find young techs looking for jobs by using an Adwords campaign (also with outside help)
- Promote tech career opportunities by adding engaging blog content to your website (write it in-house or get a freelance writer)
- Attract and recruit young prospects with a serious social media presence, and keep it current (use outside help if you need it)
Tips for hiring experienced techs
Looking for a tech with some serious experience? Just because there aren’t enough good prospects doesn’t mean you should settle for the first person who applies for the job. You must take the time and make the effort to choose very carefully as you go through the hiring process. A mistake can lead to a variety of serious problems for your business.
The resume is just the beginning
It goes without saying that anyone applying for a tech job should have a presentable resume and cover letter. Consider this your first line of defense. If you notice misspellings, bad grammar, sloppy formatting, or a general inability to express a coherent thought, beware. A long delay on their part when scheduling an interview (after you have requested one), or multiple rescheduling of the interview time is another red flag. These could be indicators of the quality of the prospect’s work ethic.
Interview with care
A one-on-one interview will be your best opportunity to get some serious insight in a given prospect’s ability to function both independently and as a member of your team. Using phone interviews is a time-efficient way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Focus on questions that reveal a prospect’s character, motivations, and ultimate goals, such as:
- What aspects of the job do you like the most?
- What aspects of the job do you like the least?
- How do you deal with stress and conflict in your life and on the job?
- What are your greatest strengths?
- What are your greatest weaknesses?
- What types of repairs do you most like to do?
- What types of repairs do you least like to do?
- What types of repairs do you need to learn more about?
- How does your diagnostic process work?
- What was your most difficult repair job? What did you learn from it?
- Do you have any specialized knowledge, in either specific car brands or types of repairs?
- How do you decide which job gets done first when it gets busy in the shop?
- How do you deal with customers who have zero automotive knowledge?
- How do you verify that the vehicle is operating properly after repairs are completed?
- What types of tools do you own?
Back up your personal perceptions with an objective screening
Some people are very good at portraying themselves as fine, upstanding members of the technician community. They can create a great resume, and they can charm you during the interview. But you need to know who the applicant really is, before you hire them. This is the purpose of the background check that you should have done on every person you are considering offering a job. This way, you should be able to trust the new person around your shop, your cash register, your customers, and their vehicles. Passing a drug test should also be part of your pre-employment screening.
There are numerous firms that can provide you with background check reports. These reports can include verification of their driving records, any criminal records, and even credit checks (a good idea if he/she will be handling money as part of the job). All you need is a copy of the person’s driver’s license and their signature on the appropriate form, approving the background check. Anyone who won’t allow a background check should be struck off your list immediately.
The military is a great place to find experienced techs
Hiring military veterans is a good thing in so many ways. You get experienced techs that are fully trained in both mechanical and electronic vehicle systems. You also get the benefit of these veterans’ military mindset, from their respect for the chain of command, to their commitment to getting the job done right under pressure, to their innate ability to work as part of a team when necessary. Best of all, you are giving a deserving veteran a chance at a promising career in the civilian world. Contact your local military reserves for lists of potential techs or find them at sites such as recruitmilitary.com.
The experienced techs you want to hire are already employed at other shops
In a tight labor market (and auto repair technicians definitely qualify), your best and most experienced prospects are most likely working for your competitors. If you can offer them what they need but are not getting from their present employer, you might be able to lure them away. This is how the “headhunting” industry works; you can try it yourself on a smaller scale.
Start with a list of techs that are currently working in your area. These lists can be purchased from various sources, or you may be able to find some prospects online. Ask your current techs about any good techs they know at other shops; offer a generous incentive for any of their referrals who are hired and stay. Talk to tool truck owners, who may be able to make some recommendations.
Reach out to these techs by phone or by email and make the case for why they should work for you. Ideally, your shop should offer all the elements of a good employment package (see below).
Keep your hiring process simple and quick for best results
Remember, your prospective employee is not really yours until he or she shows up for work on the first day. To eliminate obstacles that can lead to defections, follow these guidelines:
- Use a simple online employment application – no complex and frustrating paper forms that need to be mailed or delivered!
- Set up phone interviews for promising candidates as soon as possible after they apply – this will save you time and quickly eliminate unsuitable candidates.
- Get the background check process started as soon as your job offer is accepted (make the offer contingent on their passing the background check and a drug test).
- Have an immediate onboarding process for your new employees, to make them feel like a part of your team right away.
Make a competitive offer that meets the applicant’s needs
Keep in mind that you are competing in a crowded field. It is essential that your job offer includes everything that will make your shop the only possible option, including:
- Competitive pay
- Performance-based pay plans
- Paid training/certifications
- Flexible scheduling
- Health care coverage
- A path for advancement
- Work/life balance
Always Be Looking For New Techs
If you wait to search for applicants until you get a two-week notice from one of your techs, you are not going to have a replacement in time. Your shop will start losing money right away. To prevent this, you should always be searching for techs to work at your shop. An ongoing effort to find good prospects will provide you with lots of resumes that you can use to find someone when you are in need, through:
- Social media
- Community involvement
Do an in-depth phone interview with every candidate you come across. Let the desirable ones know that even though you may not have a current opening, you will keep in touch and notify them when something opens up. Even if these prospects take jobs at other shops, you can still reach out and see if they are happy where they are. When you do have a spot to fill, you can make a pitch for why they should move over to your shop. If things work out, you should have a choice of candidates who can fill that spot right away!