Acquiring Automotive Technicians: The Foundation or the Carpet?

We can all agree that acquiring and retaining technicians as well as consultants, has been the bane of fixed operations for decades. If you speak with any service manager or director you will hear all sorts of reasons why they struggle. “Nobody wants to get into the business, flat rate is outdated, they won’t work more than 40-50 hours, tools are expensive” and on and on. We perpetuate and expand on the problem, but rarely do we have solutions. Having enough quality and quantity of technicians and service consultants are the foundation of Fixed Operations. Here’s a different way of looking at this. Say you have a house, and the foundation is weak. You’ve got cracks, in some cases the house is sagging because of the condition of the foundation. Would you focus all of your attention on developing a plan on upgrading the windows on the 2nd floor to double pane? Would you be working on installing stain master carpeting in the spare bedroom?  Of course not, the foundation needs my attention. I can upgrade windows and carpeting, but if the house collapses, all of my resources have been for naught. So why do we put all of our energy into increasing our dollars per repair order? Gaining $10 on our effective labor rate? Spending thousands of dollars on a marketing campaign? Without a solid foundation you will be limited to potential return on investment of your time and/or resources and capital. So how do we stop complaining about our technician problems and do something about it? How do we create a solid foundation?

Let’s start by looking at our complaints. To get a different perspective, look at it from a different angle. How do we overcome the objections we hear? We have to think outside of the box and be willing to try different things. We have recruited and hired following the same processes and concepts for decades. And what has that gotten you? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Write down all of the reasons you have heard or you think as to why you don’t have enough quality technicians and advisors. Take more than 5 minutes to compile this list. Call your buddy at the dealership across from town and ask him or her that same question. Once you have a good list, look at the objections one by one. Ask yourself; is there another way of approaching this problem? For example, “nobody wants to get into the business”. Why is that? Some things you may come up with are its expensive to buy tools. It costs a lot to go to a technical school and obtain certification or a degree. Now let’s break it down. How can we overcome the tool expense? Could you buy a box and tools and have a stall ready for an individual who has interest, the skill sets, and mind frame you are looking for? If you invest say $10,000 in this and successfully develop an individual into an A tech? Of course you can. To get your dealer on board quantify it. If you have 5 technicians producing 1000 hours a month, an effective labor rate of $90.00, you have $90,000 in labor gross each month. Let’s say mechanical cost per labor hour is $40. In this case you would net $50,000. Each technician is worth on average of $10,000 net profit each month. One new A technician being average in performance would cover that expense in one month. Let’s say it takes 3 months to get him/her average. Would you be fine with an investment breaking even in 3 months and then bringing in additional profit every month after that? And that’s assuming the technician is average. Sounds great, but how do I get that potential technician on board and even interested? Advertise the position different than you have before. Highlight the fact that tools will be provided. You just overcame an objection. We aren’t done yet. So you have a green candidate who is willing but doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to succeed. And you just dropped a $10,000 investment into this individual.

How do we grow them? Before we go into that, we need to go back in history. About 4,000 years ago the Babylonian code of Hammurabi stated that “Artisans teach the crafts to the youth.” In essence the skills that have been acquired need to be passed on. So the concept of an apprentice was born.

ap·pren·tice

a person who is learning a trade from a skilled employer, having agreed to work for a fixed period at low wages.

 Colonial America brought the new need for skilled craftsmen to build a new country. European workers came in droves and brought their concept of master-apprentice with them. Granted it was an indentured servitude that ultimately benefited both parties, the process would not be appropriate today. The Industrial Revolution in the 19th century changed apprenticeships to the point that the apprentices lived on their own and were only reliant upon their teacher while at work. The Fitzgerald Act of 1937 gave apprentices more rights and better pay. As a result, the modern day labor unions are the main labor component utilizing the same concept from 4,000 years ago of having a skilled worker doing on the job training. An individual interested in obtaining a career can go into an apprenticeship and learn a skill having put no money out of his/her pocket. . While you can read a book and take classes, is there a more productive way to learn something than having an expert guide you while doing the skill? Do you have at least one experienced technician in your shop? I bet you do. Could someone benefit from learning from that person? No doubt they could. Is there any reason you can’t develop an apprenticeship program for your dealership? We discussed how to quantify the initial investment and how quickly you can cover that expense. So how do I cover the lost time my A tech loses from training someone? Everyone will do something if it benefits them. Make it advantageous to the A tech to have an apprentice. You have several paths you can accomplish this. While paying the apprentice hourly, you can have any hours turned by the apprentice flagged under the A tech. You could give the A tech a bump in his/her hourly rate during the time the apprentice is under them. You could give them a flat bonus. Or if you were really skilled at communication, you could stoke their ego. Everyone likes to be appreciated. Have a discussion focused on how you chose them because of their exceptional skills and ability. That is just one example of how you can create a solution from an objection/problem you currently face. Sometimes the best way you can succeed in today’s world is to take a look at what worked historically and update it based on the current climate and your specific need. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Just make it roll faster. Visit http://www.sunriseautomotiveconsulting.com for additional posts and resources.

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