The concern about the talent and technician shortage is at a fever pitch. Shops are turning away work, revenue is falling, and shop owner anxiety is at an all-time high when you talk about finding a tech. We have talked to shop owners who are looking to hang up their keys and close the shop simply because the “perception” is there that no one wants to work in the auto repair industry anymore.
Would you believe that the issue at hand is, in fact, self-inflicted and simple to correct? Stick with me and you’ll hear from three successful shop owners who aren’t participating in the tech shortage.
Change is never easy, especially when it come to the person looking back at us in the mirror each morning, but if you and I don’t change and adjust, along with continually looking for the next competitive advantage, we’ll go by the wayside as other shop owners pass us by.
As a coach, I see first-hand the resistance to change. Just the other day I was working with one of my long-term clients and suggested a change which had been proposed (and opposed) several years ago. His resistance was high, even though this owner had successfully navigated changes that, over the past few years, caused the shop to grow an average of 29 percent annually!
I asked him to recall how hesitant he was originally to making the changes and if 1) now he regretted any of them and if 2) his customers or 3) his employees pushed back on the changes. The answer was he had no regrets, and neither did his staff or customers. In this case, he committed to making this one change based on realizing that he was the one who had issues with adjustments in the past when no one else did!
Change for change’s sake is not a great strategy, but in the case of changing how you operate in order to attract higher quality talent, everyone wins. So, hold onto your hat as I challenge todays closely held belief that WE have a talent or tech shortage!
The old adage, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right,” emphasizes how much your attitude determines success or failure with regard to the talent shortage solution.
Grow Your Own
Shop owner Dwayne Myers of Dynamic Automotive in Maryland explains to quality entry-level team members that it’s not a job at Dynamic, it’s a career. You’ll hear Dwayne use the words family, training, industry events and growth plan as you talk with him. Entry-level techs can be part of an apprenticeship program which sets the stage for long-term growth and a long-term highly rewarding career with Dynamic!
As owners, Dwayne, Jose and Lee model what they expect in employees, which shows commitment to the personal and business growth of their team. They invest time and money in training opportunities, knowing that their own development will set the tone for the rest of the team. Do as I say, not as I do, is not a great leadership skill!
Recruit The Best – Pay Top Dollar
“While finding great talent is never easy, attracting highly qualified technicians is always best accomplished by offering superior wages and benefits, a culture that offers camaraderie, growth and recognizes exceptional performance, and a work environment that’s clean, attractive and stocked with the latest tools and equipment to address the needs of today’s vehicles,” says Doug Grills, owner of AutoStream Car Care near Washington, DC. “For us, we’ve found that the most powerful recruiting tool that we have is referrals from our own team members. By creating an attractive work environment and company culture, your own team members can be relied upon to refer other outstanding technicians that they have worked with at a previous employer,” he says.
“Seventy-five percent of the employees at AutoStream Car Care were referred to us by someone already working at our company. That’s an extremely persuasive testimonial for the magic that an attractive workplace can provide,” says Grills.
You may hear owners say “I just can’t afford to pay any more for a tech.” Well, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys as employees. The better approach is “How can I charge enough to pay at the top of the wage scale?” Do you know – really know – what your gross margins are on labor? Is your labor rate high enough for you to afford the best tech in town?
Keep in mind that, if your numbers are in line and your tech produces at the level expected for a seasoned tech at the pinnacle of their career, he or she will generate 2,500 hours a year for your shop. With a labor rate of $150 per hour, this tech will generate $375,000 a year in labor alone. Remember, top-tiered techs should easily command the top of their pay scale – in this case their share of the production lands at $113K.
Culture Matters, Always!
Do you understand what attracts the best candidates to your shop? A culture of growth, excellence and opportunity. Brian Bates of Eagle Automotive, Littleton, CO, set out to grow his shop with a plan to grow his team buy filling the positions needed within each store. Brian and I were members of the same peer group 15 years ago and, at the time, were both single-store owners focusing on developing our operational excellence. Brian always had an edge over the rest of the group, because his perspective drove him to develop each element of the business. His focus was on a culture that bred excellence, teamwork and cooperation.
“As shop owners, we always talk about the opportunity for growth in the company,” Brian said to me a few years ago. “Yet how much impact can we have with only one location?” At this time he had his second location and was working on his third; today he has nine shops in central Colorado. When we were talking for this article, Brian said he was signing his manager up for our business management class, setting him up to take the next step in his journey at Brian’s shop.
Keep in mind that Brian’s culture of excellence started even before he had his second location. Brian set the stage for years of ongoing growth and attracting the best talent Colorado and the rest of the country.
Train, Evaluate, Train – and ABR
Fail to train and the industry will pass you by, leaving you behind the 8-ball and making it difficult to catch up. Consistent performance evaluations allow you to choose the best career path for each employee’s strengths. No employee worth his salt wants to stay static in his knowledge and, if they do, you need to replace them.
ABR – Always Be Recruiting, should be the mantra at your shop. Just as withd competitive sports, seek out and interview “free agents.” You never know when you’ll need to replace, upgrade or fill an open position!
Get Your Numbers In Line
While speaking with Dwayne, Doug and Brian, one common theme ran though each discussion: Set your shop’s pricing where it needs to be. The days of undercharging while delivering top-notch service are over if you want to survive and prosper.
Profit isn’t a dirty word, so stop treating it as such. No one will ever say that poverty is a blessing, in fact, a poverty- or survival-centric mindset is a curse.
Your mindset is the rudder on your ship. Will you steer it toward growth, blessings and happy days or toward rocky shores? I know which boat I’d rather be on, and so do the prospects you are looking for!
The last word
To say that the there is an abundance of candidates available would be way off the mark. In fact, there are fewer available and yes, the job market is tight. But have you ever asked yourself this question: “Why would a tech, advisor entry-level employee work for me and my shop?”
Think of the best employer in your market. They attract the best talent when they have an opening, which gets filled right away. When a prospect is looking at you and other shops in your market, would they say the same? If not, put the work in, make the changes so you can become the employer of choice in your town or city! As shop owners we solve problems on vehicles every day – some simply take more creativity. Now is the time to apply those same problem-solving abilities to the “talent shortage” you don’t have to participate in.