Have you taken a look around our industry lately and made the same observation that I have? We are getting pretty old. From the parts house counterman to the shop owner, we are seeing a lot more grey hair and maybe a few more comb overs. In fact, statistics indicate that the average age of a shop owner is 55!
We do have a gap in talent, as techs, service advisers and shop owners are retiring at a fairly rapid pace. By the time most of us hit 55, we are thinking about retirement and what our later years might look like, and not necessarily who will carry on what we’ve left behind.
So rather than approach this as a problem, let’s look at it as an opportunity, which is what it really is. Right now you might be thinking, “how in the world can a lack of talent be an opportunity? You must be crazy!”
The vast majority of shop owners and technicians spent their entire career under a hood or behind the shop counter within the four walls of the shop. We went to tech school and college, and then settled into our daily routine as our career progressed. Many of the shop owners went from working in the bays to the day-to-day management of the business as it grew.
While we juggled fixing cars and learning to manage the business, we didn’t see the value in creating relationships outside of our doors, or working to connect with local businesses and the education community.
Those who did, like myself, had the opportunity to do something good for their business and grow their communication and social skills in the process. The better you communicate and interact socially, the more effective you will be at building a network outside — one that’s very important to your shop, especially when you need to hire someone.
Daniel Goleman put it this way in the January 2004 edition of the Harvard Business Review: “Socially skilled people tend to have a wide circle of acquaintances, and they have a knack for finding common ground with people of all kinds — a knack for building rapport. That doesn’t mean they socialize continually; it means they work according to the assumption that nothing important gets done alone. Such people have a network in place when the time for action comes.”
As Goleman refers to it, “action” could take on any form, from a full-on facility renovation to adding a young staff member fresh out of a local education institution. The wider your network, the more effective you are at finding people to help you solve a problem at any given time, should you need assistance.
I’ve been fortunate over the years to have connected with many people outside of my four walls. My network reaches out nationally to the top levels of the parts manufacturers we use on a daily basis, all the way to my local business community and educators. At any time, I can pick up the phone to get help with any problem I encounter that I cannot resolve on my own. That’s the power of building a network.
Connecting With Educators
Another opportunity to fill the talent gap is to reach out to your local high school, college or technical institution. First, meet with the shop teacher and volunteer to help out on their advisory committee. Having served on these committees for the last 11 years, I can tell you a couple of things: They want our help and value our input; most advisory committees don’t have an independent shop owner/manager represented; and, without our help, their programs will stagnate.
We have one program out of a local high school where the students are required to intern in the shop during their second year. Having spent time with the teachers gives us the competitive advantage to select the student whose skill set, temperament and work ethic match our company. The intern’s term becomes a “test drive” for us to make sure they are a good fit for us. It also gives us the opportunity to shape and mold that person while they are in their most formative years.
The service side of the industry is not the only segment experiencing this gap in talent. Parts manufacturers, marketers and distributors are all experiencing the same thing.
So, the opportunity to help close our industry’s gap in talent is multi-faceted and far-reaching if we choose to look at it as an opportunity vs. a crisis.
First, get involved at the local level with your local schools. Offer your assistance in helping to strengthen their programs.
Second, improve on your own social skills to broaden your network and influence. Join the local chamber of commerce and business association.
Third, go to Multi Parts Supply’s Spark website, spark.multiparts.net, to learn about the Spark Initiative at AAPEX 2014 and review this model for drawing fresh talent. Then, pass it on to your larger suppliers. With all of us working collectively toward a common goal, we can bring strong, solid talent to fill the talent gap!