Recruiting and Retaining Exceptional Automotive Techs (Part 2)
by Rich Diegle, ALLDATA Tech-Assist Team Supervisor
During the early years of my career, I noticed that many dealership owners or general managers thought the service department was just a necessary expense that was required by the manufacturer. The sales team was the dealership’s primary source of revenue, and as such, was treated to spiffs, bonuses and all-expenses-paid trips. Was the service department included? Unfortunately . . . no.
When vehicle sales began to decline sharply in the latter part of 2007, the dealers’ focus migrated from the sales department to the service department. The dealerships had to rely more heavily on profits generated by their service departments to keep the doors open. Good technicians became a highly sought-after commodity. They began to be more appreciated and fairly rewarded for their expertise. Today, vehicle sales are on the rebound, but the perceived value of highly-skilled technicians remains. Finding and retaining those technicians has become more important than ever.
How to Retain Great Technicians
Nobody disputes the fact that there are not enough good, certified technicians to fill the needs of the automotive industry. In part two of this two-article series, I’d like to provide some insights to help you keep the valuable technicians you have spent the time, effort, and expense to hire.
Come for the Money – Stay for the Benefits
As I discussed in Part 1 – Recruiting and Retaining Exceptional Automotive Techs, techs may jump ship for more money, but offering them benefits they are not likely to get anywhere else will go a long way toward keeping their toolboxes anchored in your shop. Let’s explore what those benefits are and how you can leverage them.
You may have offered a signing bonus, more dollars-per-hour, and an excellent benefit package to persuade a technician to work for you, but remember, the same valuable benefits that originally attracted that technician will play a key role in keeping them over the long run.
Be clear about what your benefits are. When discussing your benefit package during the new-hire on-boarding process, it’s important to be completely transparent and precise about the details. Answer any questions your new employee may have up front and supply documentation that describes benefit features for later reference. You want to be sure there are no surprises when an employee becomes eligible for benefits they’ve waited a while to receive.
Offer equitable benefits to all employees. There are no secrets in a shop. If you offer unique benefits to a few individuals, the others will eventually find out. For morale and retention’s sake, ensure all employees are aware of the existing benefits and what is required to warrant each benefit.
Make good on your promises. This may seem obvious but you would be surprised how often owners or managers do not follow through on their word. If you promised your technicians flexible schedules, paid training, comprehensive medical, dental and vision-care insurance, or certification test fee reimbursement when you hired them, it’s imperative that you deliver. Not doing so is one of the quickest ways to lose good techs.
Combat Turnover with Communication
Effective two-way communication with your technicians is an important tool to keep them engaged and committed to your shop’s success. To ensure their ongoing commitment, you as the shop owner or manager play a major role when it comes to keeping communication channels open.
One communication strategy I recommend to shops is to conduct what I like to call “retention” interviews. Just as “exit” interviews help you learn why a tech left the shop, “retention” interviews with tenured employees can help to validate what you are doing right – and determine what you may need to change to keep them happy and productive. The technicians working every day in the shop know what it takes to help them be more productive and efficient. Listen to them and be prepared to act on their input.
Provide a Productive Environment and Culture
After you have hired your “dream team”, providing them with a clear vision and cultivating an environment for them to thrive will ensure the long-term sustainability of your business. But what does that look like in an automotive shop setting?
Your employees not only need to know how the business is performing but also where it’s headed. Everyone should understand the short- and long-term goals of the company and how their individual jobs support those goals. You want to keep them engaged and feeling like they are an integral part of the shop’s success. Conduct quarterly meetings over pizza in the breakroom or after work at a local restaurant. This is also a great opportunity to discuss team “wins” and an excellent way to thank your staff for the great job they’ve done that quarter.
Professional automotive repair shops require a long laundry list of tools and equipment to function efficiently. Scanners, shop Wi-Fi, electronically-delivered OEM repair information, digital oscilloscopes, specialty tools and high-quality vehicle lifts are all basic “must haves” for today’s shops. Besides tools and equipment, providing simple things such as uniforms, shop towels, clean shop floors and employee-only restrooms go a long way to drive home the fact that you are willing to invest in their success and well-being.
Initiate friendly competition. Technicians love to compete with one another. Offer monetary-based rewards for achievements that are tied to increasing shop profitability, such as the highest customer satisfaction survey score, the tech who used the least amount of shop supplies or had the highest number of “upsold” hours. A simple dinner for two, a gasoline gift card or a daytrip to a popular local destination are a few examples of rewards that can help motivate your employees and promote a positive culture and a productive environment.
Weed the garden. What I mean by that is, although you’ve done a fantastic job recruiting the right people, invariably some individuals end up simply not being a good fit. They suppress the energy and passion of the rest of your team and hold them back. Eventually they will have a negative impact on your bottom line. Identify these people quickly and replace them. Remember, the best environment for productivity and efficiency is one where great people work with other great people. It’s your job to provide that kind of environment.
And finally, being a good employer isn’t easy. There are a multitude of pressures facing all of you each day, and saying “thank you” or “way to go” to an employee can easily move to the bottom of the list. But when you take steps to provide a positive culture and a productive working environment, the accolades and success will just come naturally.
About the Author
Rich Diegle is a 40-year automotive industry veteran. He is currently the ALLDATA Tech-Assist Team Supervisor. He has also held positions as an ASE and Nissan Master automotive technician, shop owner, instructor, automotive editor, and marketing and public relations manager.