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Why You Struggle to Retain Technicians

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Recruiting and retaining quality, experienced technicians is one of the most common hurdles facing shops today. 

Carlisle & Co., which provides strategic guidance and tactical solutions to automakers, recently released its annual Automotive Technician Survey, which polled 9,000 dealership technicians from 15 different OEMs, asking them about the biggest challenges, satisfactions and disappointments in their jobs.

Harry Hollenberg, a partner with Carlisle, helped Ratchet+Wrench break down the survey’s findings.

This survey deals with dealership technicians. How does this apply to the average shop?

I think it clearly translates to the entire industry. Job progression, satisfaction, training—those issues cut across the industry no matter whether it’s a dealer or independent.

There will be some differences between dealerships and independents in the way the shops are set up or staffed, but the same can be said from a large independent shop to a small one, or a quick service shop to a full-service one. We feel these issues surrounding technicians are universal.

What were the key findings?

The survey, which went out to technicians in 2013, covered a broad range of things. What jumped out the most, though, were two key issues: the impact that “express service” and “quick lube” offerings have had on technicians, and some clear disconnect issues technicians have with service advisors.

Those were the two biggest issues we came across—the two things that impacted their job satisfaction and ability to do their jobs the most.

What is it about “express service” that cause issues?

Career path. So, shops have pushed maintenance and quick service much more in recent years in order to retain customers. We’ve seen in studies that if you don’t have these services, customers will go elsewhere—and if they find a different center that can provide the services they need, they aren’t coming back.

But who do dealers usually put on these quick-lube jobs? The least experienced techs, right? It’s pegged as an entry-level job. And in the survey, we asked whether they saw a clear career path to progress in the shop from there, and the overwhelming response was “no” (80 percent surveyed said there was no realistic progression plan).

Then, we looked at overall job satisfaction of technicians, and of those who didn’t see a clear career path, said their satisfaction was much lower (roughly 40 percent were unsatisfied in their jobs). 

And here’s the big one: Of those who were unsatisfied because of their lack of career path, many see leaving the industry as the best option for their future. We gave them a number of options for where they see their careers progressing—different position in the same shop, working at a different shop, etc. The majority selected changing industries altogether (nearly 20 percent of those who were dissatisfied said they see themselves looking to another industry). Those who were satisfied chose “same job/same dealer” as their overwhelming top choice

If we don’t do anything, how are we going to keep technicians? How are we going to grow them into the team members we need down the road?

What’s the solution?

I don’t know that I have a great answer for that, but a clear solution would be to provide that career path—how do you outline a way for them to get out of quick lube and progress through your shop? Just having that in place can drastically change their mindset and satisfaction. They know they’re working toward something.

Another idea is to reverse what you view as a lube tech. Maybe it’s not an entry-level path, and instead it’s an exit path. Why not take a technician who’s been in the industry 30–40 years and it’s getting harder for them to work heavy equipment, and put them on this job as a more customer-facing position. Service work is about customer retention, not about big tickets. Who would you rather have handling the customer: an experienced tech who can connect to customers, or an 18-year-old kid?

What is the main disconnect with technicians and service advisors?

This was an interesting part, because we did a survey with service advisors, too, and the vast majority claimed communication with technicians as a strength. Yet, when we surveyed technicians, they said the number one thing that could improve their jobs is better communication with service advisors. 

The biggest issue we found was  service advisors making what technicians perceived as unrealistic promises to customers. 

This caused a lot of dissatisfaction in the technician’s jobs, and as we noted, that leads to them leaving the industry.

The solution is creating an environment where service advisors and technicians work as a team. That can be difficult, but it’s a must. 

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