September 15, 2020
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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!