The Three R’s

By Tony Molla, ASE



One of the more common challenges a service facility manager has today is finding and keeping qualified technicians. As our current technician population ages, finding replacements—both entry-level and experienced—is becoming a significant issue. If there is a crisis looming in the form of a technician shortage, my observation is that it’s already begun in the medium/heavy truck segment and it begs the question: Can the rest of us be far behind? Take a look around your shop and note the average age of the technician staff. I think you’ll find that if you haven’t developed a succession plan for your best technicians, now would be a good time to start. Of equal importance, however, is keeping your current technician workforce productive and happy. It all begins with the 3R’s—Recruitment, Retention and Recognition.

Recruitment

Traditionally, many service businesses have addressed their technician needs by simply hiring an individual with basic skills and “growing your own” with proper training. But this takes time. The closing of car dealerships across the country have placed many qualified auto technicians in the job market. Recruiting an experienced auto tech can accelerate this learning curve, while offering a compelling incentive to help these professionals change career paths relatively quickly and easily. If there is such a thing as job security these days, it’s found in building on existing talents to move in a new and arguably more secure employment direction.

When it comes to building an effective recruitment program for your business, thinking outside the box—and a local area—may be necessary. Finding highly qualified technicians may now require offering things like relocation assistance or signing bonuses to attract the best and the brightest from across the country. While placing help wanted ads in newspapers that serve areas where dealerships have closed is an obvious first step, many now rely on the Internet for national searches. There are several websites you should consider when going this route. Monster.com is one. Automotivecareers.com and autojobs.com are two more. There are others. In addition, many associations offer Classified Ad sections on their websites. Websites like the Automotive Service Association (asashop.org) or the International Automotive Technicians Network (iatn.net) are a good place to find experienced candidates who are job hunting or just looking for a career change.

One great alternative for finding technical talent close to home is to get involved in your local Career and Technical Education program by joining an Advisory Council. This will not only give you access to promising entry-level technicians, it will allow you to help your local secondary and post-secondary truck program provide the proper basic training for your needs.

It goes without saying that most individuals are looking for what have become basic benefits when choosing an employer. Having a good health insurance plan, 401k retirement program and paid holidays and vacation are expected these days. Other benefits such as paid training and certification not only demonstrate your commitment to your employees, it helps improve your overall business performance and increase your bottom line. When it comes to employee benefits, don’t think of it as a cost, think of it as an investment.

Retention

RetentionFinding them is one thing. Keeping them is quite another. Once you’ve found a qualified technician and invested in the training necessary, protecting that investment is more important than ever before. Retaining both new and existing technicians is also something that requires a bit more attention these days. While compensation packages and benefits are important, job satisfaction trumps both when it comes to keeping your best technicians happy and productive. Here again, benefits like ongoing training and offering things such as incentives for achieving ASE certification shows your commitment and appreciation for the professionals you employ. Make no mistake about it, qualified technicians are professionals and should be treated as such. Showing respect for the talents and abilities we all need on the shop floor is the keystone to building the self-confidence necessary for good employee morale, which itself is at the heart of job satisfaction.

Another important factor in building team spirit is engagement. You have to demonstrate that each technician is an integral part of your organization’s overall success. Accomplishing this can be as simple as holding regular shop meetings where you bring everyone into the loop on what goals are established and how your organization is doing in meeting those goals. Competition improves the breed. If your operation maintains multiple service locations, establishing clear objectives and measuring each service location against each other in meeting those objectives instills a sense of shared responsibility that enhances teamwork and cooperation. Regularly recognizing everyone’s efforts towards meeting these goals reinforces the importance of each individual contribution. It doesn’t matter if it’s shooting for a reduction in productivity-robbing injuries or setting a new bar for productivity in a month, establishing and achieving goals builds self-confidence and enthusiasm.

But perhaps the greatest tool you have in keeping your best employees productive and happy is an effective technician development program. It’s another opportunity to set effective goals in the areas of training and certification, which not only builds self-esteem, it increases the capabilities and knowledge of your workforce. The increases in productivity, first-fix accuracy and job performance also result in impressive ROI’s. Everyone wins.

Retention is all about communication. It’s no secret that it’s a lot more cost-effective to keep a good technician than to replace one. Regular performance reviews provide the opportunity for coaching and feedback to identify areas of excellence and needed improvement. But more than that, it demonstrates that respect for the talents and dedication I mentioned earlier. The most successful managers realize that a simple occasional pat on the back does more to build and keep a high-performance team than just about anything else.

Recognition

Employee of the MonthPerhaps the most important of the Three R’s is Recognition, which ties it all together, and can make your shop operation sing! Team building is as much about showing an interest in your employee’s families, hobbies and interests as it is cultivating a cooperative work atmosphere on the job. The personal touch is the best way to engage an individual and make him or her feel that they are part of an organization that truly cares about them. A little friendly competition can further reinforce this team spirit and help you establish an ongoing, performance-based recognition system no matter what the size of  your business.

There are many great examples of effective recognition programs. For example, NAPA and CARQUEST each have had their own internal competition, which engages the shops affiliated with either program.  While technician competitions are great ways to provide recognition for top performance, even the most modest efforts can have a huge impact on morale, productivity and team building. As I said, a pat on the back is a wonderful thing. Take the time to spotlight excellence during a routine shop meeting. Celebrate your goal achievements every chance you get. Offering things like gift cards, movie tickets or dinner coupons for superior performance are just a few of the small ways to recognize dedication and professionalism that will pay big dividends down the road. I think you’ll find that it’s amazing just how much something like an occasional barbecue can motivate your technicians into becoming a high-performance team.

This has, I hope, provided some thought starters for finding ways both big and small that you can show your appreciation and respect for the crucial role your service team fills in achieving a successful operation. It all comes down to your people, and finding ways to say “Thanks for the Great Job” may just be the most important tool in the box.

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