The Time Has Come

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I’m stating the obvious when I say this has been a year filled with uncertainty. Between a chaotic election cycle, ongoing protests and turmoil in cities across the country and a global pandemic, nothing seems clear-cut these days.

Strategic operators know to prepare for the ups and the downs, but in unpredictable times like these, so many business owners are nervous about spending their money. They’re feeling the urge to squirrel away their cash and stretch their PPP and loan proceeds as far as possible.

And that’s a shame. Because right now, whether you’re running a warehouse or a dry cleaning business, hiring is one of the most important things you can be doing to shore up your shop.

The employment rate’s far from recovered and with all of the financial aid packages rolled out this year, a lot of C-level technicians that were making $12-20 per hour before the pandemic, are now receiving $800 or $1,000 to stay home.

If you worked in the hospitality industry before COVID-19 hit, those benefits are a great thing, but it’s a different story for the local mechanic. It’s complicated—we all have friends that worked in gyms or restaurants or hotels that have really needed that support—and an even bigger strain on an already tight auto labor market might not have been the intended consequence, but it’s created this new reality for shop owners.

If I’m a busy owner trying to keep three techs on my staff and my C-level techs aren’t coming back to work because they can make more staying home, I’m having to put more pressure on my A- and B-level techs and as I go to shop the marketplace, the cost of A-level techs is rising (they’re the ones who were making enough before the pandemic that unemployment benefits can’t compete) and they’re in even higher demand. Across the country, we’re seeing rates for A- and B-level technician rates increase between five and 10 dollars per hour.

Hiring’s been a hot topic these last few years, but having a deep bench to draw from in a time like this that’ll keep you from wasting time and losing ground is critical. And it’s not just enough to be “looking.” You must always be recruiting!

Clients will tell me they’re looking hard for technicians and coming up empty-handed. I’ll say ‘Really? Is your ad on Indeed? Craigslist? Monster? Let’s pull it up and take a look. Maybe we can find some ways to tweak it and make it better.’ That’s when they’ll reveal the post expired last month or—even worse—they can’t remember where they posted it.

That’s not looking. A thought without action is still a thought. If you’re thinking about looking but haven’t taken any concrete steps, you’re not looking. If you’re casually looking, you’re not looking. If you’re only looking a few times a year, you’re not looking. Those efforts have got to get baked in to the day-to-day. Get your name out there and make it known you’re on the lookout. Start taking guys out to lunch. Start connecting over Zoom. Even when you’re full and you don’t have the space. Having prospects lined up and excited to work with you before you need them is what’s going to save time and stretch those dollars in the long run.

Looking for top talent is also going to mean getting serious about what you’re prepared to offer. For the shop owner that’s trying to lure in top talent and build that deep bench, but has been holding off on rolling out perks like added benefits or sign-on bonuses and shop updates like air conditioning or epoxy floors—perks that will actually draw in quality candidates—the time’s come to rip off that bandage and get it done.

Plenty of owners have kicked these ideas around and dragged their feet, but shops who can get ahead on these perks and features now will have a chance to do it strategically, on their terms, before they’ve been fully backed into a corner. The market’s shifting and it’s starting to force the issue. Why not get out ahead while you can? If not now, when?

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