Grow Your Own Top Talent

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I know what you’re thinking. Not another article about the technician shortage. And I get it. It’s hard to go a day without the issue coming up at least once. But there’s a big piece of the issue that I’m not hearing enough about in those constant conversations at the industry level and one on one with shop owners. 

We need to be putting a much larger spotlight on growing your own talent at the individual shop level. Sure, the shortage has been a problem for years, but it’s hit an extreme level in just the last 10 months. That escalation’s forced a lot of shop owners to go, “Shoot, I need to get a plan together.” They’re realizing that if they put a plan in place to start growing their own techs now, they could have some solid talent on staff five years from now—or not change a thing and be out of luck a few years from today.

I know a majority of shop owners grasp the value of training up new talent, but they’re not taking it seriously enough to make a dent, mostly because they’re too busy trying to put out todays’ flames than putting strategies in place to prevent future fires. They’re letting everything become urgent instead of working ahead to eliminate those looming threats. There’s also a mentality of “I’m going to just keep taking from the market, rather than give back to it,” and that’s the exact mindset that will not only exacerbate the problem, but keep those embers burning for years to come. 

It’s time to ditch that firefighter mindset and get to work on solutions in our own shops with training and apprenticeships. Those apprentices may stay with you, and they may not, but you’ll be bettering their lives and building a stronger future for the industry in the process. 

Right now I’ve got two apprentices in my shops who are working through a process we’re always fine tuning. And I know what you’re thinking. Yes, it is a lot of work. Lately my own shops have been slammed with work and it’s hard to pour the time into those young men and women—but there’s no quick and easy fix to build up an entire market share of skilled labor. 

And for those shop owners who are ready to get started, I’ve got a few tips. 

If you’ve currently got three technicians who are turning at least 500 hours each month combined, you can swing an apprenticeship program. If you’re operating below that level, an apprenticeship will add a burden too great, wear down your team, ultimately slow your entire operation. But once you’ve got three or four techs holding their own, it’s time to shift that priority to growing talent.

Like any other position in your shop, you want to be selective and aim to bring on an apprentice you think will go the mile. Some of our apprentices have actually been children of loyal customers and others have responded to our ads for technicians. They might not have the tools, but if they’re smart, interested and excited to learn, that’s something we can work with. We can train skills, not attitude, so if the attitude lines up, we’ll figure the rest out. 

You’ve also got to be ready to adapt that program. Chances are, you’re not going to build the perfect program overnight. We’ve tweaked timelines and raise structures over the years, but with every tweak the program becomes more effective and productive. It’s a work in progress, but it’s built with opportunities for them to prove themselves and puts a good amount of the progress in their own hands. 

Most importantly, you’ve got to build a set path for those apprentices. They need to know where the program will take them and that there’s a future waiting for them through all of that hard work. It’s the best way to motivate them to stick it out and succeed, and at the end of the day, that’s how you’ll make your mark and do your part for the industry at large. 

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