Straightening Up the Tech Recruitment Mess - Product Support
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Straightening Up the Tech Recruitment Mess

By Steve Uible

Article Date: 02-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Having trouble finding service department talent? The answer may lie buried beneath an unkempt workplace.

Author's Note: Warning - Reading this article may be hazardous to your keeping the status quo at your dealership.

How many times have you heard from people in your own company, at a meeting you attended or an article you read that it is very difficult to find technicians? If you are like us you have seen it, and probably experienced it, too many times to count. And it must be true because you don't have enough well-trained and qualified techs for your shop, right?

Industry statistics seem to back that up as well. There are not enough techs being graduated from the tech schools - although The AED Foundation is certainly turning the tide on this trend with its nearly 20 accredited technical schools and growing, which are graduating more than 400 highly trained new technicians per year.

Even so, we are told that young people are reluctant to enter an industry that does not have the glory of others - and one in which they're going to, let's face it, get dirty. Dealerships everywhere are looking for qualified techs.

We see no magic bullet here, so if you think that top techs are going to be filling out applications at your dealership because of this article, that is not going to happen. But there is indeed a very powerful aspect that we think is often overlooked.

A few months ago we were at a dealership and the service manager was telling us all about his problems, and he did indeed have plenty. But the biggest one on his list was that he could not get all the jobs done because he could not find any good techs. He said he would hire three immediately if he could find them.

It did not take a rocket scientist to see what his problem was. It was as obvious as the dirt on the floor. This is not what he wanted to hear, but sometimes the truth can be brutal. His shop was so dirty, we thought, who would want to work there? There was floor-dry everywhere; there were empty parts boxes overflowing from the full waste drums; there were old parts from completed jobs on every bench. You get the idea?

The cleanliness of his shop was so bad that any technician who took pride in his work would never want to work there. And it obviously did not stop there, either. The technicians who were working there had uniforms but many of them were dirty and most had their shirt tails hanging out. The office needed a major clean out too. I can't even imagine how long some of those boxes and papers had been there! In short, it was a depressing sight. What qualified technician would want to work there? Is it any wonder he was having a hard time finding technicians?

Now this might be an extreme example, but it is a true one, and one that occurs more often than you might expect. The cleanliness and image that this service department projected spoke louder than all the ads they had out looking for techs.

We all know there is a technician shortage in this country. The facts and experience can attest to that. But that does not mean there are no techs coming out of our tech and vocational schools. In fact, The AED Foundation gives us proof that there are many successful school programs out there educating some fine people who are motivated to become top techs in the years to come. And that doesn't even include all the disgruntled employees who are willing to find a better job than where they are presently working. There are techs available in almost every market.

They are looking for a career and for a company that will appreciate their talents, pay them well and provide an environment where they can take pride in their workmanship. So it is not a matter of if they are there; it is a matter of where are they going to work.

Pay is definitely important in hiring parts and service employees, and if you are not competitive in your marketplace you will not attract the best candidates, no matter what your facilities look like. So first of all, know what your competitors are paying and what their benefit package includes. If you don't know what they are offering you can be sure that the people who are applying for jobs at your dealership will know.

But study after study shows that there are other factors that are important to a person who is evaluating a new job. Pay is important but it is not everything. Some of these other "soft" issues are reputation of the dealership, the benefit package, the image of the facility, cleanliness in the parts and service areas, management style, distance to work, training opportunities, career paths and others, as well.

So if all these areas are going to affect a person's decision to accept a job at a dealership, are we putting our best image forward to help him to want to work for us? Of all these concerns, having a neat facility is decidedly the easiest to attain and has the most impact on future applicants. A shop that has a mess on every workbench, a dirty floor, empty boxes scattered and a parts department that is disorganized and dirty will not attract the best employees.

And since we are on the subject of attracting new employees and how the image we project is going to affect our ability to attract the best, our discussion would not be complete without talking about how these same issues affect the retention of employees we already have. In fact, that may be an even greater issue. If we can't get the new person we want to come to work for us, at least we haven't invested time and money into his career. But if an employee leaves us to go somewhere else, we not only lose that person, but we lose all the experience he has and all the training we have invested in him. Losing a long-time employee is very expensive from this standpoint.

The image of a dealership can be the difference between retaining your top employees and losing them to your competitors. It can be the difference between signing up that new tech with perfect grades and perfect attendance at your local tech school and seeing him wear your competitor's uniform.

What Would Your Customers Say?

The one group that we have not even mentioned is our customer. How does he feel about a dirty shop? How about a disorganized parts department that has been known to lose a needed part? Or technicians who don't have enough pride to keep their work area or service truck neat? You know the answer because we face these kinds of decisions every day when we take our car to a dealership for repairs, hire an HVAC man for our homes, or walk into any retail store. We will almost always choose the one that is cleaner. Why should we think our customers are any different?

We often hear the argument that dealerships don't have the money to spend to attract top employees; that times are tough and the budget is too tight. That can definitely be the case in the cyclical industry in which we work, but cleanliness doesn't cost money - it makes money. How many hours can techs spend looking for a tool that was not put away? How many accidents are caused by tripping over extension cords? How much time does a parts counterman take looking for an invoice? That is how keeping things clean can make money for you: through improved efficiency.

Clean desks in the office, parts departments that have everything in its right place, service shops that are clean, yards that are neat - these are all signs that you have a professional dealership that takes pride in your people, your customers and your work. This may all sound very easy, but it definitely isn't. Changing the image - including the cleanliness of a dealership - is very difficult. Like the old saying, "If it was easy, everybody would be doing it."

This initiative, like any important program, must start at the top. The image guidelines should be clear to every employee, and no excuses for a lack of cleanliness will be accepted. Mid-level managers usually do not have the authority necessary to change the cleanliness culture of a dealership. They will appreciate the support and leadership from above to start making these changes. Have you ever done a major cleanup to get ready for an open house or a visit from a dignitary? We all have from time to time. And the place looks great for a while. What is interesting is that employees usually are happy about the new look and would like it to stay that way; but it seldom does.

It is amazing to see the wide variation of cleanliness in dealership parts and service departments. Make yours one of the best in your marketplace and you will begin to reap the many rewards from it. One of them might just be attracting technicians.

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