By Sandy Cerami

In 2009, there were 20,453 new light-duty car dealerships at that time and a severe shortage of qualified automotive technicians. Electric vehicles were a nascent, albeit curious new option for drivers. The confluence of world events had just revealed itself as the nation, and our industry, began a historic climb out of a financial crisis. A crisis born of feckless governance by "rubber stamp" corporate boards, greedy, even criminal CEOs and bankers, and epic fiscal ineptitude born of a nasty cocktail of political avarice from the 5 successive Bush/Clinton/Bush administrations. It was a hell of a time...little did we suspect that it would become even more calamitous 10 years later.

Yet here we are, and although the collective number of U.S. light-duty dealership rooftops has decreased by 10.7% to 18,263 in 2021, we still see drastic shortage of automotive technicians across the industry. One significant reason is that in the fourth quarter of 2020, there were nearly 234,700 independent repair and maintenance centers in the U.S., a 0.9 percent increase year-over-year. also, in the ten years between 2010-2020, the industry added over 13,000 additional independent facilities. That means that the competition for top technicians is more fierce that ever before in the history of our industry.

As automotive OEMs pivot hard and fast toward electrification, and the jury is way out on whether this is a political calculation or even a smart bet at all, the changes this trend signals for dealerships and independents alike will be seismic.

If your dealership is going to win and prosper now and in the future, solving the technician shortage will be the single biggest sustainable calculus employed to protect and grow your profits short and long-term. Period.

Here Are 7 Tips To Turn Your Shop Into A Top Tech Magnet:

  1. Perpetual 24/7/365 Recruiting Campaigns: Stop doing the Hokey-Pokey style recruiting with one foot in and one foot out. Only recruiting for top technicians when you are desperate has dire and unintended consequence for dealerships. We tend to make rash, hasty and bad hiring decisions focusing on filling the open stall versus upgrading our team and/or maxing out productivity by adding techs. People make decisions when they reach something I call HIGH NOON™ when we develop and manage campaigns with our clients. That is when a candidate makes the decision to enter the employment arena and look for new opportunities. This is often triggered by a life event like graduating a trade program, getting engaged or married or buying a house. It can also be a professional event like a change in ownership at their current dealership or group, a personality conflict with a new manager or a change to their compensation or benefits plan...something that rarely happens in retail automotive ?! HIGH NOON™ is a point that I can't emphasize strongly enough!
  2. Develop a Formal Interview Process ASAP: I have been guilty of not being properly prepared for an interview during my days in retail automotive, and I can assure you that we missed out on some great candidates as a result. Having a uniform, written process that everyone on your team knows and is disciplined enough to follow consistently is paramount. Not being prepared shows in not having a place to interview already designated and reserved, not being immediately available to interview, not having the information available for candidates to review like comp plans and benefit summaries, work schedules or position responsibility outlines. (Like job descriptions, only better!) Being prepared demonstrates your dealership's organizational capacity as well as the candidates potential value to the team.
  3. Identify Career/Income Goals And Mutually Commitment To Them: This is a great opportunity for clarity in terms of candidate/employer expectations and to create an agreed upon path to getting there. Candidate expectations will vary from the absolute minimum to wide-eyed big plans. When we invest quality time in advance of hiring to determine the plan, obligations and shared responsibilities that will help a candidate see their path and the support they will receive along the way...I strongly recommend putting it in writing as a map and accountability resource throughout their tenure. It helps to avoid and, when needed clarify and resolve potential conflict.
  4. Create and Market Formal Onboarding/Incentive Programs For Top Techs: If you simply do whatever your competition is doing or worse, less...you are not differentiating yourself from other opportunities for top technicians. Be creative. Solicit input from your current team. Maybe it's flexible scheduling, like a 4-day work week or some other operational or logistical adjustment that creates a more attractive opportunity in a top technician's mind. Ask current trade school students what they want like tuition assistance, tooling assistance or even more training! If we want to win the battle for top techs and grow our respective revenues, we will need to focus on creative ideas that generate excitement for candidates.
  5. Celebrate Milestones: Making our people feel and know that they are valued is essential for ESI and retention. Easy to implement, high-value celebrations and acknowledgements like the first day, week, month and year represent a chance to connect, show respect and gain valuable insights into ways we can continually strengthen our value proposition for technician attraction and retention.
  6. Properly Maintain and Invest In Shop Technology, Tools & Equipment: This seems so obvious, but it's often an overlooked source of technician discontent. The objective is to not simply appease technicians by simply committing to these actions, but moreover to help them be more productive, so that they can earn at a higher income level while your shop realizes higher productivity and profitability. This one truly matters and pays dividends. Top techs want and deserve technology, tools and equipment that match their expertise and professionalism.
  7. Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Keeping these tips top of mind and reviewing them and executing on them consistently will help you develop and nurture a culture of exceptional talent that should yield exceptional results. Committing to becoming the standard-bearer for the extraordinary is something that smart, engaged business leaders do as routinely as brushing their teeth. It is habitual at the DNA level for them, and that is why the organizations that are at the very top of their market seem to be there with interminable ease!

What are you doing that sets your service operations apart from the competition? If we truly wanna standout from a crowded field of employers, we gotta step up our game!