You suddenly lose a technician. You throw together a job advertisement, interview a few sub-par candidates, and end up hiring someone you’re less than excited about. You may feel defeated or annoyed by a situation that exemplifies the shortage of talent plaguing the repair industry.
But in reality? This is probably all your fault, Bogi Lateiner says.
“High achievers, whether trained or untrained, experienced or inexperienced, are looking for places that provide room to grow,” says Lateiner, owner of 180 Degrees Automotive in Phoenix. “The shops that are complaining about not being able to find good technicians are the ones that are the least attractive to work in.”
Instead of scrambling, you can put the steps in place so the best technicians in your area are itching to join your company. And Brian Sump, owner of Avalon Motorsports and Urban Autocare in Denver, and Lateiner have a pool of candidates to back that statement up. Sump and Lateiner are well-respected independent shop operators running modern, sophisticated businesses that each rely heavily on a talented core of employees. (Sump’s manager is a past Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Award Winner, and both spoke on company culture at September’s Ratchet+Wrench Management Conference.) They each cover their keys to ensuring a steady stream of quality technicians are available to their shops.
1. Keep Your Pipeline Full.
Lateiner can describe the No. 1 rule for ensuring quality technicians whenever you’re in a pinch with one acronym: ABI.
To spell that out: Always be interviewing.
Both Lateiner and Sump keep job advertisements posted year-round and welcome qualified candidates to come in for interviews at any time, regardless of whether or not they have an opening at that time.
“Call it keeping your pipeline full,” Sump says. Keep building rapport with quality techs in your market and know where they’re working.
Sump says to be respectful of their current employers and not to cross any professional or ethical boundaries that may occur, but instead, simply build relationships so that when the time comes to make a hire, you have waiting and willing technicians who want to work for you.
“Having a mentorship program and being open to training on the job opens up your pool dramatically.” —Bogi Lateiner, owner, 180 Degrees Automotive
2. Target Your Job Ads.
Lateiner says the old-school mentality is to keep job advertisements vague: “We’re a busy shop.” “We’re looking to grow.” “We offer benefits.”
“That won’t make you stand out in a crowd,” she says. “That’s like advertising your shop to the public, ‘We fix broken cars.’ OK, that’s great. So do all the rest of them. Why should I come to you?
“When you’re looking for a technician, you’re advertising your shop. I think it’s important to say the name of your shop, who your team is, what your values are, and what makes it special.”
Sump and Lateiner say not to hesitate about listing your competitive pay plans, tool plans, apprenticeships and training offerings in job ads.
3. Keep a Clean Shop.
Filthy bathrooms, unsafe work environments, disorganized bays, misplaced tools and dirty floors—those are all huge turn-offs; yet Lateiner says she encounters them constantly.
“You’ve got to put yourself in their shoes,” she says. “Are you going to want to work in a shop that’s grimy and messy? It signifies you’re not very professional.”
Implement processes and hold employees accountable for a clean shop. Sump even suggests hiring a cleaning company to visit regularly, and epoxying your floors.
4. Update Your Equipment.
When potential employees visit your shop, Sump and Lateiner say it’s also essential to have updated equipment—lifts, alignment machines, diagnostic equipment, toolboxes, etc.—as the best candidates will be educated about the latest tools and technology.
“Have some attractive things that are going to make this high-quality technician with high character want to be in your organization,” Sump says. “When technicians see our shop, they think, ‘This is a place I really want to be.’”
5. Update Your Website.
When a potential customer wants to know more about your shop, the first place he or she typically goes is your website.
Well, potential employees are no different, Lateiner says. Make sure your website has a modern design, that it functions properly, and that it properly represents your shop. Display photos of your clean, sleek facility and your dynamite team environment.
6. Offer Tool-Purchasing Plans.
The best technicians will want the latest and greatest tools to be as productive and efficient as possible—which can be expensive. Sump says to set your shop apart from others by aiding in your technicians’ tool purchases. Offer plans that provide tool credits and gift certificates, cover a portion of tool purchases, or spread out tool payments over several paychecks.
7. Pay for Training.
When speaking to potential employees, Sump says to show you’re open to not just paying for your technicians’ training, but also that you’re always looking for the best specific training available for everyone.
“If they’re itching to learn about electronics, offer basic diagnostic classes,” he says. “If they’re experienced with alignments and show they’re thirsty for more training, give them a three-day in-depth alignment class.”
Sump recommends WORLDPAC, NAPA, CARQUEST, BG Certified and Bosch for classroom settings, and AVI for online training.
8. Have a Competitive Pay Plan.
As someone who regularly works with a technical college in his area, Sump is very attune to average starting salaries for technicians.
Sump says you should always start out paying new employees hourly until they prove themselves. While this changes from region to region with cost of living, Sump says a tech at a discount tire store with one task might earn $8 per hour; $9-12 per hour for a lube tech; and $12-14 for an experienced technician with a degree.
Advertise that you offer room for growth and pay increases. Slowly work them into a flat-rate pay plan, give out performance bonuses and offer raises for achieving ASE certifications.
9. Set Up Apprenticeships.
Many times, Lateiner says, a shop’s inability to find quality talent isn’t due to a shortage—it’s due to the shop’s unwillingness to invest time in cultivating quality team members.
“Everybody wants to hire someone with five or 10 years of experience, but those guys have jobs. They’re harder to find,” she says. “A mentorship program and being open to training on the job opens up your pool dramatically.”
An extensive apprenticeship program takes a lot of work and coordination, but for Lateiner and Sump’s shops, it’s paid off immensely. See the sidebar at the end of the story for details on Avalon’s apprenticeship program.
“You can either sit around complaining about the lack of technicians or you can go contribute and try to cultivate techs.” —Brian Sump, owner, Avalon Motorsports
10. Work with Technical Schools.
Sump says technicals high schools and colleges are itching to work with local industry professionals. Connect with other shops in your area, form an advisory board and offer your services to help guide the curriculum and provide mentorship to potential employees down the road. You can find schools in need of guidance through organizations like NASTF.
“You can either sit around complaining about the lack of technicians or you can go contribute and try to cultivate techs,” he says. “Now that’s a very humbling, selfless thing to do because you’re not going to get paid for it, and you may not even get a hire out of it. But if we sit around picking our nose all the time about it, nothing is going to get done.”
“So we need to go out on a grassroots level, to the high school programs, the colleges, the counselors, and make them better, make more young people excited to get into the industry.”