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Shop Operations

Technology, The Double-Edged Sword

How To Attract the Best Technicians, While Increasing Profits

In a recent conversation on my company’s Facebook page about the causes of the technician shortage, technicians – both current and former – were sharing their experiences.

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“I left because of the lack of pay. Shop made money but I didn’t get much of a check.”

“I left because I was either not making enough money for the work I did or I was making a $1,000 a week but that was on commission. So, I would be working 11-hour days just in case I didn’t make money the next day.”

“Lack of pay and opportunities. Topped out 15 years ago. I still love what I do. It sure isn’t for the money.”

The comments paint a vivid picture of why there’s a technician shortage: technicians deserve a level of respect and compensation that matches their training and commitment as professionals, and they often don’t find it in auto repair.

Technicians as professionals

The ugly truth about the independent auto repair industry is that, for as advanced as technicians have to be to diagnose and repair increasingly complex vehicles, the systems they use to do their jobs, the tools owners use to manage the business, and the training that advisors use to learn the keys to guide customers are mostly built on outdated technology and constructed around outdated ideas.

This isn’t just bluster on my part. All of the techs in my shop have made more than $100,000 each of the past two years. And, all of my techs would look you in the eye and tell you they’re happy in their job. 

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We can talk about culture, and processes and procedures, and building a workplace where employees feel valued. These things are critical. But look again at those Facebook comments. Techs are angry. They’re angry that despite their education and their investment in tools and their dedication to their profession, they aren’t receiving the compensation or the respect they deserve.

The 500-Pound Gorilla In The Shop

First and foremost, we have to talk about the technician shortage, because if this problem continues unaddressed, nothing else matters.

Consider what a technician has to do to inspect, diagnose and repair a vehicle in an average shop right now. They’ve just finished inspecting the vehicle, and their notes are fresh and on the top of their mind. In order to complete the writeup, they have to log in to the labor guide (hopefully they didn’t kick out another user in the process), copy and paste the VIN, or choose year, make, model and engine from dropdowns…start to drill down into systems and components to find the repair…and, finally find the book time. Is that the best time? Better double check. Login to second labor guide (and kick out another tech in the process)…enter year, make, model and engine…drill down into system…nope, first time was better…copy labor operation back to estimate…

Rinse and repeat.

This technician, who owns $50,000 in tools, who takes classes and obtains certifications as frequently as a doctor, who should be spending his time billing hours and making money for himself and for the shop is instead logging in to websites and hunting through drilldown menus.

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And that’s just the inspection and write up! Next, that ticket heads off to the advisor and goes through all the inefficiencies of the parts ordering process.

It’s a waste of time for everyone involved: the tech, the shop and the customer.

When you remove these inefficiencies, and make it easy for the technician to write up a vehicle, and for a service advisor to source parts, technicians can bill more hours every day. 

Time for a new approach: data

Yes, you may be fine with the profits you’re making right now and don’t want to rock the boat. But technicians are getting wise to the fact that there’s a better way and the industry that lets them make the most money and best use of their time is the industry that doesn’t have a problem attracting and keeping skilled, valuable technicians. 

 “Fine with the way things are” is a privilege that shop owners are about to lose because it’s clear that technicians are absolutely – and reasonably – not fine with how things are.

So how can the independent shop owner embrace technology to better run a profitable repair shop? We’ve already addressed the fact that technology exists to remove efficiency problems, allowing techs and advisors to stay focused on their production pipeline.

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Next, apply that lesson to how the owner manages the shop. Somehow, in the year 2020, we still see shop owners managing by looking backward. If you’re waiting until the end of month to look at your numbers, you can’t do anything to change course. Potential profits are lost forever. And any changes you make today can’t be proven to work until another month has passed.

To give you a picture of how backwards it is to manage a shop like this, consider that it’s possible to tweak your parts matrix on every single repair order by fractions of a percent so that you can hit your parts gross profit target. It would be insane to try to accomplish this by hand, but technology can quickly make this happen.

Compare those two concepts. Managing based on data from a month ago versus managing based on data from minutes ago. This is the ideological rift we have in our industry.

This carries over into training as well. COVID-19 has laid waste to our industry’s reliance on “fine with the way things are” approach to training. With every canceled trade show and training seminar, there are service advisors falling further behind in critical concepts, and it’s having a ripple effect throughout the entire auto repair ecosystem. 

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Podcasts are not new. Streaming and on-demand training has been around for years. So why is it still noteworthy that programs include these kinds of training by default? Until service writers have access to the training they need to sell diagnostics, shop owners are going to be proposing handshake deals with techs to try to close diagnostic work on tickets.

The truth is, our industry is sitting on a powder keg. Techs can’t see a way to make the money they’re worth and owners don’t have plan for getting there. And advisors are powerless to help without access to more and better training. 

The result of this inaction is a dwindling pool of skilled but increasingly jaded technicians.

Our industry is in trouble, but it’s salvageable. Our survival depends on what we do next. We can pay our techs what they deserve, we can stop the technician exodus and fix the tech shortage. At the same time, we can become more profitable and grow sustainably by putting technology to work in the shop.

David Rogers is president of Automated Marketing Group, chief operating officer of Keller Bros. Inc., and president of Auto Profit Masters and Shop 4D, the industry’s first Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled, self-learning system for proactively managing repairs, customers, marketing, profits and employees. Reach David at [email protected]

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