Beat the Dealer

May 7, 2024
How to find, hire, and train dealership technicians for success in independent auto repair.

Automotive aftermarket research firm IMR reported in 2023 that 33% of auto repair shop owners indicated that their second biggest industry-related challenge was finding and employing technicians—up nearly 2% from 2019. In an automotive landscape where finding qualified independent repair technicians keeps auto repair shop owners up at night, one segment of workers could alleviate these challenges—dealership technicians. 

Andy Bizub, owner and chief strategy officer at Midwest Performance Cars, which has three locations in and around Chicago, has found these dealership technicians particularly advantageous to his business. In dealership techs, he gets automotive specialists with OE-specific training and high efficiency. But hold your horses before you keyword search ‘dealership auto technician’ on Indeed. There’s a process auto repair shop owners should follow when hiring dealership technicians. 

Understanding the Dynamic Behind Dealership Techs

For Midwest Performance Cars, bringing on a dealership technician starts with making sure the alignment is right. Independent auto repair shops are operationally and culturally different from dealerships. Whereas independent repair shops emphasize the customer journey through attentive service, vehicle education and advocacy, and overall satisfaction, dealership technicians are designed to be like assembly line workers—highly efficient, detached, and focused on completing prescribed work with the autonomy of an independent contractor and not as a member of a team. It’s something shop owners should understand about a dealership technician's makeup before interviewing and hiring.

Bizub asserts that it’s important to help dealership technicians embrace a team-first mentality, and while the technicians he has hired have been successful, that’s not always been the case.
“That's a real issue because you do have people who are are steeped in that dealership culture of ‘I’m on my own. I’m a lone wolf’ and it's eat what you kill.
There are some people who (have) been in that and they can't make the jump,” Bizub says. “We have to realize that not everybody is going to fit into everything.”

Compensation plans are another change dealership technicians learn is different when moving to independent repair shops. In one interview, a candidate asked Bizub how many hours his shop takes back from technicians at the end of the week. The question caught Bizub off guard. Taking back hours, he learned, is the practice of dealerships to reclaim 10% of the hours a technician works at the end of the week to compensate for warranty work or comebacks. Bizub reassured the candidate that his shop didn’t adhere to such practices under any circumstances; technicians get paid for the number of hours they work. 
“I asked around after that and actually found out that is not an uncommon practice at dealerships,” Bizub says.

Hiring Dealership Technicians

Bizub likes to keep a deep bench and this includes a pile of resumes on hand. He says his process is to perform a round of interviews with the candidate that begins with one of his three other managers, preferably the manager at the shop where the staffing need exists. The interview is conversational—a chance for the technician and the manager to feel one another out. The candidate is asked about themselves, their professional goals, and why they’re looking to leave their dealership. “Ideally we don't want someone who's just going to move for $2 an hour more,” Bizub says. 

If the candidate is perceived as a good fit, they’re invited for a second and more substantial interview. This round includes Bizub, the shop manager, and the lead technician.

“(The interview) tends to be more another conversation and really kind of delving into what are their goals, what are the motivations, how do they feel about training, what kind of training have they had, what's been their experience? What are the pros and cons of the training that they've gone to? Any suggestions about the way things work in the industry as a whole,” Bizub says. “We really try to keep it kind of wide open, right, because we want to get the person we want, (we want) the person to be at ease. I'm going to open up and really see who we're dealing with.”

The technician is presented with various shop scenarios and asked how they would address them. Bizub is looking not only for technical prowess but personality and soft skills. He says with 10 technicians across his three shops, he likes to see candidates comfortable in their own skin. “We're not trying to create automatons; we're trying to bring people who are going to bring add additive things to our business,” Bizub says.

Bizub hired a rock star dealership technician who moved to Chicago from Houston—“Very unusual. Nobody moves into Illinois"—for personal reasons. Bizub walked him through a lengthy interview process since the technician was coming from a “highly reputable” shop in Texas. Bizub says that while the technician had weaknesses, he exceeded expectations in important areas and was hired to help improve the efficiency of his younger technicians. Today, that technician is the foreman at Bizub’s main shop. He has plenty of similar success stories with finding and hiring dealership technicians. 

While dealership technicians have strong transferrable skills, auto repair shop owners need to be prepared to train them to fit the culture and get them acclimated into a more intimate working environment. It’s a chance Bizub is willing to take to get the specialists he needs for his European shops.

“We know that it's going to be an investment on our part to bring that individual up to speed on what we're doing. So, we'll pair them up with one of our experienced techs and continually monitor their progress,” Bizub says. “We know we're going to be getting 100% productivity out of them for some (time), but not a long period of time, and it's expected. Have a plan and have reasonable expectations. It's part of our investment in that person.”


Photography: MN PhotoStudios

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