It feels like a new problem, because the industry is finally paying attention to it, and it’s gotten too bad to ignore, but I’ve been telling my consulting clients that the technician shortage was happening for 20 years. I’ve been writing about it in pages like these for almost as long.
I don’t bring any of this up as a “told ya so” moment, but to give you a frame of reference: I have a deep passion for helping owners overcome this crisis, just as I have a deep commitment to helping technicians get the treatment and payment that are forcing them from the automotive industry in increasingly distressing numbers.
And in the interest of demonstrating those commitments, and also of starting this article out on the right foot, I want to share a podcast I did with Jay Goninen, the founder and president of Find A Wrench.
You can listen for free at
All of which is to lead to the critical focus of this article: just because we can finally all see the technician shortage crisis playing out in front of us doesn’t make it a new problem, and it absolutely doesn’t mean it needs experimental, unproven solutions.
Case in point, I read recently that the solution to attracting the quality technicians your shop needs (or keeping your current technicians for longer) is to offer them a permanent guarantee.
To be clear, a short-term guarantee can be a useful tool for bringing a new employee on board. But technicians are leaving our industry in droves because they’re undervalued, both in compensation and in treatment. They’re leaving for more financial opportunity and better conditions. The solution isn’t to hike the floor up and encourage the least capable to stick a little longer, but to remove the ceiling.
Technicians need and deserve the opportunity to make more than $100,000.
How does a permanent guarantee solve that? It doesn’t! A permanent guarantee does, however, reward decreased performance with better pay and does decrease the shop’s revenue and profits!
But that hasn’t stopped false prophets and self-anointed gurus from propping up this and similar ideas that are wildly divorced from reality. Frankly, it shocks me that ideas like this have a platform.
So what is the solution?
I led off this article by saying that I’ve been telling consulting clients for 20 years that this problem was brewing. These shop owners are not trying to find technicians right now. They’re not heading back into the bays to turn wrenches because they can’t find help.
Their main problem right now is opening their next shop or expanding their current location. They’re growing, not shrinking.
Here’s what those shops are doing to fight the technician shortage.
Retaining Current Technicians
Perhaps the most critically important way to retain your current technicians is by putting them in charge of their paychecks, so they can earn compensation that matches their investment in tools, education and career.
This means two things:
First, an incentive-based pay plan that lets them control their compensation by rewarding the technician for doing the things that help the shop grow.
And just as importantly, putting the tech in charge of their paycheck means operating a shop where the team has the processes, procedures and tools that maximize efficiency and productivity. More succinctly, the shop needs to remove the production bottlenecks so that techs can bill more hours on every single vehicle.
You likely run into these bottlenecks every day: juggling logins to multiple services, inefficient parts ordering, communication bobbles, endless transcribing and copying and pasting. Each slowdown seems tiny — until you add them all up. How many hours are your techs losing each day to inefficiency? Dedicated use of an effective shop management system can remove those kinds of bottlenecks and allow you to bill more than two additional hours per tech per day.
Those kinds of efficiency gains are incredible for both the technician and the shop when multiplied out over a year.
What’s the biggest hurdle for turning your lube technicians into apprentices and eventually full technicians?
In our experience growing technicians in our shop, the learning curve is almost entirely in the tools we supply them with. Each additional component your lube tech must master before they can even start apprenticing is a hurdle they have to overcome.
Labor guides, inspections, writeups, diagnostics, point of sale — often these have been drilled into your technician before they start working for you.
But when you’re growing your technicians, it’s entirely up to you to train your new employee how to use all of those systems, how they work together and your expectations for how they’ll be used.
The alternative — as we’ve seen in our own shop with the lube bay manager who just graduated to full technician — is to use a shop management system like we do that removes all of those barriers so that your technician can focus on what they’re good at and what makes them money, grows your shop and helps them grow into their full potential: billing more hours.
Recruiting New Technicians
What sets your shop apart from any other place where a potential technician can work?
In many ways, we’ve covered this already. When you’re able to look your candidate in the eyes and tell them they will bill more hours and bring home a bigger paycheck than they have at any shop previous, why would they work for anyone else?
Because of a permanent guarantee? Not if they’re a quality tech! The best techs like to be paid for performance.
Doing this right requires big decisions like changing your procedures, your pay plans and your software. But people being afraid to make these types of winning decisions are what left the industry where it is.
Bad advice from false prophets causes more and more shop owners to go back to turning wrenches or selling their shop for a fraction of what it’s worth … instead of going down the path I’ve illustrated here.
Your mother or father taught you the solution already: if it sounds too good to be true (or too easy) then you know it’s not going to work. It’s time to stop trying shortcuts and choose the winning path instead.