How to Recruit and Retain Better Mechanics in a Talent Drought
It’s hard enough for small and large automotive service businesses alike to attract, hire, promote, fire and enforce protocol with techs and mechanics in their shops. Whether you’re looking to hire an entry level technician or a Master Certified Automobile Technician, the complications are amplified in our current economy, where qualified candidates are harder and harder to come by and workplace “ghosting” is becoming a trend. Openbay is here to empower auto service providers with all the knowledge and tools to take their business to the next level, so we looked into why this drought is happening and what your business can do to get ahead of it.
The Scramble for Qualified Automotive Mechanics
The days of wanting to get your hands dirty are dwindling. Auto repair is becoming highly technical — almost all technicians work off of iPads and laptops — but younger generations still hold an old-fashioned view of the job as “wrench work.” The reality is that “today, mechanics and technicians can work in a repair shop and not get their hands very dirty at all,” says Joe Sevart, owner of I-70 Auto Service.
Plus, “there’s less of a mechanical interest and understanding among young people. They are not hands-on. Mechanics used to start with some gas station experience. Now the experience a person gets working at a gas station is selling slushies,” said Gary Uyematsu, national technical training manager at BMW of North America.
The truth of the matter is that qualified mechanics are aging out and, for a multitude of reasons, there is a shortage of young people entering the auto repair industry to replace them. To keep up with customer demand, millennial recruitment and retention for auto repair shops is more important now than ever before.
To throw another wrench into the hiring dilemma, vehicle mechanical and electronic complexity are outpacing improvements in vehicle reliability. Essentially, a modern-day vehicle is equivalent to a computer on wheels, making diagnostics and repair increasingly more complicated. Because computer systems control just about everything in modern vehicles, “you practically need to be an I.T. guy to work on new cars.” One top of the challenges your technicians will face is keeping up with both mechanical AND digital skills.
A hot topic for debate in the industry is the line between auto mechanic and auto technician. Charles Sanville, better known as “The Humble Mechanic” explains, “I think the terms are one hundred percent interchangeable. A technician and a mechanic in today’s world, it doesn’t matter. You have to be able to do all of that otherwise all you are is a parts changer.”
Americans are also setting records in vehicle-miles traveled (3.225 trillion miles in 2018). More driving spurs higher demand for vehicle maintenance and repair, and auto shop owners are feeling the pressure to keep up. “I’ve had a b-tech position open for over two years,” explains Marc Zandell, owner of Golden Triangle Auto Care. “We use Indeed, we use Craigslist. I even tell my parts vendors that if they bring somebody to me, I’ll give them 300 dollars.” And Marc is not alone — the Automotive Service Association (ASA) reported in 2017 that 45% of shop owners felt a tech shortage was their number one challenge.
A New Management Concern to Add to the List
Ghosting used to be limited to bad dating habits among millennials and gen Zers. Now, with unemployment rates at a 39-year low, workers have more leverage and options, so they feel more empowered to suddenly ghost, or cut ties with their employers with no explanation whatsoever and no goodbye. In smaller auto shops, if a mechanic doesn’t show up, they might even have to close temporarily to avoid long backlogs of work. Unpredictable business hours and longer wait times translates into unhappy customers. Nobody wants that.
Now that you know you’re not alone, here’s what you can do to attract and retain top talent for your auto shop:
Get to know your target talent pool. You might be tempted to group millennial and gen Z recruits into one category, but their differences are distinct. For example, millennials seeks job flexibility and make up a large part of the side hustle economy, whereas generation Z is more career path oriented. Read our three-part series to get a better understanding of how the mobile-first generations are shaping the auto industry, what they expect from business interactions and what they value most in life. One common thread for both generations is a strong emphasis on transparency and authenticity. As an employer, your best bet is to be overly direct and open about the requirements of the position and the company culture.
Show ’em whatcha got: Benefits matter to everyone, but particularly to younger generations. Perks can make or break an offer acceptance. So can company values. Flexibility, time for family, charitable work, work-life balance, mentorship programs, opportunities for advancement. This is your chance to stand out from the rest.
Keep up with the times: Show off your tech-savviness. Millennials and gen Zers, also known as digital natives, are used to everything digitized. Do you offer digital onboarding? Online communication? Digital vehicle inspections? Video chat interviews? Equip your business with the right modern-day tools, like the AI-powered virtual service advisor, and prove that you’re on the cutting-edge and willing to go above and beyond to better serve your customers and your workers. Have an up-to-date website and social media presence that reflect your core values.
Don’t be shy: Even if you’re not in the market to hire a mechanic, Always Be Closing Networking. Get involved in the local community: sponsor a junior sports team, host car clinics, promote other local businesses, provide discounted services for military and veterans. Reach out to high schools and teachers at technical colleges. Join the technical school’s advisory board. These types of outreach get your shop’s name out there, which is never a bad thing. Word-of-mouth is extremely powerful, not only with customers, but also with job seekers.
Keep up with appearances: Does your service bay look like a contender for Richard Rawlings’ Garage Rehab? Is it temperature controlled? Do you have reliable wi-fi? How about an employee-only bathroom? A little bit goes a long way in making your shop look professional and feel safe and comfortable both inside and out.
Show me the money: Being a mechanic is hard work. You can pay your workers with compliments, but that will go nowhere if they feel underpaid.
Never say never: Keep an ‘always hiring’ mentality. If someone reaches out to see if you’re hiring, never turn them down, especially with hard-to-find techs. Invite them into the shop for a conversation, let them know you’re not hiring yet but may be soon, and check in with them regularly. If one of your mechanics isn’t working out or decides to “ghost” on you, you’ll have someone on speed dial to hire immediately.
Get back to the basics: Check references, run a drug test and perform a background check. These basics offer the easiest ways to spot red flags.