The future outlook for new technicians
Let’s start with the good news. There is a huge demand for automotive technicians throughout the automotive service industry. The not-so-good news is that fewer and fewer young people see this field as a worthwhile career choice. This has created a shortage of techs to fill all those positions at independent shops, as well as dealerships and the various service chains.
It’s a bad situation that is steadily getting worse. Here are some of the sobering facts:
- Half of all entry-level technicians from certified auto tech programs leave their jobs at independent shops and dealerships within two years.
- 30% of techs overall leave their jobs each year.
- 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 service industry needs on an annual basis.
- 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.
- Most current techs would not recommend this career to their friends.
- Boomer-age techs are retiring in large numbers, leaving many vacancies and taking their knowledge and experience with them.
What do many of these young techs have to look forward to when they graduate and take their first jobs in the auto service industry?
- Low starting pay, unless you work long hours
- Entry-level positions can be a dead-end
- A large investment in tools that is necessary to move up the job ladder
- Working conditions that can expose them to heat, cold, noise, and harmful chemicals
- Working in tight, cramped spaces with potential for injuries and chronic pain
- Safety hazards from lifts, heavy vehicles, and power tools
- A flat-rate system that depresses their earning power
- Frequently-needed training that is not paid for by employers
- A lack of work-life balance
Is it any wonder that there’s a tech shortage? Now add in the fact that related mechanical service fields like airport ground services equipment, oil field equipment, transit systems, airlines, railroads, and boating will pay much more and provide more balance. Many techs who start at independent shops and dealers will soon leave for these greener pastures!
There’s a new job profile for today’s automotive techs
Unless you plan to permanently chain your new techs to the oil-change pit, you will need to provide a career path that is both satisfying to the tech and profitable for you and your shop. The cars that are driving into your shop right now are loaded with sophisticated electronic systems that need repairs. Why not develop these younger techs, who grew up with smartphones and gaming controllers in their hands, into your diagnostic wizards of tomorrow?
By doing this, you will be helping these techs advance, enabling them to do work that both engages them and generates more revenue for you. Help them to see the potential of a long-term career working in your shop, advancing their skills and their incomes.
How to find new techs for your shop
Let’s start with the fact that there are simply not enough entry-level technicians available to fill every position. That means that you must have a strategy to get the techs you need for your shop first, before they are scooped up by the other shops and dealers in your area. Guerilla warfare is definitely called for, so let’s prepare to win this battle!
Get a foothold in schools with auto tech programs
To get your fair share of the available young techs in your community, you must be engaged on all possible fronts. This includes high schools with auto programs, technical schools, and community colleges. Use these tactics to get to the best new techs for your shop:
- Start an internship/mentorship/apprenticeship program to groom prospects before graduation, then choose the best candidates and hire them
- Work closely with technical schools – join an advisory board or become a sponsor
- Present tech careers to students at job fairs and career days
- Host open houses at your shop – invite students to see your place and meet your staff
Market to these prospects through the channels they are connected to
The young people of today grew up with digital devices as their primary means of communication. To reach them with your job and career messages, you’ve got to be where they are:
- Update your website – present your shop and staff positively, with a contemporary look and feel
- Get help w SEO to improve your website’s search ratings
- Start an Adwords campaign to find young techs looking for jobs
- Add compelling blog content to your website, promoting tech career opportunities
- Have a social media presence to welcome and attract young prospects, along with someone to actively manage it
- Place creative, appealing job ads on Craigslist and other job sites
- Sponsor local events like music concerts that attract young people, and promote them online
Hire techs coming out of the military
Imagine hiring highly-trained techs who come to you with extensive experience working on sophisticated mechanical and electronic equipment. Now add their willingness to follow the chain of command unquestioningly and stay with the job until it is done right. Finally, mix in the ability to work well as a member of a team, and you’ve got the military mindset. These men and women will hit the ground running and will become some of the best employees you have ever seen. You can find them through sites like recruitmilitary.com, which are open to employers. You can also contact your local military reserves for lists of potential job seekers.
Make a job offer that addresses their needs
When you offer a prospect a tech job, keep in mind that you are competing in a crowded field. It is essential that you offer all of the things that will make your shop the only possible option for these new techs. That includes:
- Competitive pay
- Performance-based pay plans
- Paid training/certifications
- Flexible scheduling
- Health care coverage
- A path for advancement
Have a shop that attracts young techs
In addition to the details of the job offer, you need to have a physical location that is up-to-date, welcoming, and safe. First impressions count, so be sure to have:
- The latest diagnostic equipment
- Safe and modern shop equipment
- Temperature control
- Good lighting
- Employee-only bathrooms
- Fast parts delivery
- A non-sexist appearance that female techs will be comfortable with (no girlie calendars!)
How to train new techs
The process of onboarding a new, entry-level employee is very important. It can make the difference between a long, mutually beneficial relationship and a quick burnout. You must integrate each new tech into your shop’s existing culture, making these newest staff members feel like fully supported and valued members of your team.
Within the first week of employment, there are several ways to achieve this. The new tech should be given a tour of the facility, shown where to park, and be fitted for a uniform if applicable. Review your shop’s policies and procedures, providing them with an employee handbook to keep for reference. If your techs use the phone to contact customers, review the shop’s telephone call guidelines.
Explain the shop’s workflow process. Show the new tech how to operate the various pieces of shop equipment that he or she will be using, along with all safety guidelines. Review your shop’s established ways of inspecting vehicles. Provide a tutorial on your computerized point-of-sale system.
Have the new employee shadow a supervisor, to provide an overview of how things should ideally operate in the shop. This will help to bolster the new tech’s confidence at the start of their new career. Pair each new tech with an experienced one, so that the newbies have someone to ask for help or information, whenever they need it to successfully complete a job they are working on.
Having a comprehensive onboarding plan in place will enable your new techs to feel comfortable in their new surroundings, ready to hit the ground running!
But that’s not all. A supervisor should follow up with each new tech, one-on-one, on a regular basis during their first year of their employment. This is an excellent time to share feedback on what is working, what isn’t, and what the new tech needs assistance with.
Ask new techs what types of training they think they need and why, then get them set up with the appropriate courses – and cover the cost. Your local community college is a good and inexpensive source for this kind of continuing education. Your new techs will appreciate your commitment to them, and you will get more loyal employees with a greater knowledge of the field. It’s a win-win!
New techs are your shop’s future
In the competitive auto repair business, the future belongs to the shops with the brightest, most motivated, and well-trained techs. You can assure that future for your shop by finding and training the best available techs, and then doing everything you can to keep them there for the long haul. If you do, you will be rewarded with loyal customers, great word-of-mouth, and a steady stream of new business. It’s definitely worth the effort!
Author: Stephen Fogel