Finders Keepers: Qualified Technicians - BodyShop Business

Finders Keepers: Qualified Technicians

With a shortage of qualified technicians plaguing the industry, shop owners are asking, "Where's the best place to find my next employee?" The answer: in your own back yard.

Speaking with several shop owners across the country, I found
that the most common method used for finding a new hire is to
ask current employees for recommendations. Those recommended are
most often friends, relatives of friends or previous coworkers.

If one of your current employees knows a qualified former coworker
who’s looking for new employment, why not consider him. Though
you’ll still want to conduct an interview, your current employee
can give you valuable third-party insight on such things as work
habits and attendance record.

"We hired a painter’s helper on the recommendation of one
of our body men who worked with him before and knew he did a good
job," says Jim Mizell of Mizell’s Collision Center in Tulsa,

Before that recommended employee starts, it’s important to let
your present employee know that the new person’s job performance
and future employment will not affect your relationship with him.
Likewise, let the new employee know that his acquaintance with
your present employee won’t let him off the hook in performing
the job you require. Whether the new employee is a friend, relative
or former coworker, make it clear that everyone’s merit will be
judged solely on his performance, not on his relationship with
anyone else.

The pool of potential employees is much bigger than just your
back yard, though. If employee inquiries haven’t led you to the
right new hire, consider placing a help-wanted ad in the local
newspaper, consulting one of your vendors, checking into the local
vo-tech or community-college autobody programs or even hiring
from within.

Help Wanted

Many shops have successfully found technicians through classified
or help-wanted ads in newspapers. If this is the method of choice
for you, remember the following tips when placing your next message.

First, make sure to describe the job available, as well as your
shop, in the best possible terms. Rather than describe the position
as "lot boy" or "cleanup person," call it
an opening for a "car porter" or "final-detail
technician." It may seem silly – the job itself will entail
the same work no matter what title is given – but the trick is
to get qualified people to apply for your opening. After all,
you can’t hire the most qualified person for the job if he or
she never applies. Unless the job sounds promising, the qualified
people you’re trying to attract will read right over your newspaper

In the ad, describe those responsibilities of the job you think
will interest applicants and leave out the chores you know will
dissuade them. If you only work Monday through Friday, put that
in your ad. If you work all day Saturday or Sunday, save that
little tidbit until the interview and simply say in the ad that
the opening is for a full-time position. If you offer benefits,
say so in your ad. If they’re particularly generous – like paying
100 percent of a family health-insurance premium – describe them
in print. If you simply pay for a one-week vacation after a year’s
employment, just mention "benefits" in print.

"We offer either a straight 50/50 commission split with no
benefits or a 60/40 split with one-week paid vacation and 100
percent of a single health and dental policy premium," says
Mike Noel of Rony’s Body Shop in Taylor, Mich. "We feel the
choice of plans brings us the best technicians."

While you’re telling potential applicants about the position,
tell them about your company, too. Point out the high-tech equipment
and training opportunities available. If you’ve been in business
for many years, say so in print. "Established body shop in
business for 25 years," shows your shop’s stability. A newer
body shop might be better off advertising its progressive ways.
"Dynamic new collision center looking for forward-thinking
people," says your shop means to be a part of the industry’s

Whether you’re describing the position available or your shop,
don’t be afraid to toot your own horn in print. The cost of an
extra two or three lines of text will be minimal, especially if
you can elicit applications from the most qualified technicians.

Hear It Through the Grapevine

Another common method used to locate new employees is the vendor
grapevine. Jobber salespeople, tool-truck sales people, paint
reps and other vendors visit businesses like yours every day.
With that kind of industry contact, they often act as amateur
employment bureaus. Sometimes it’s the technicians who want to
know which shops are hiring; sometimes it’s the shop owner who
wants to know if any techs are looking to change jobs. But remember,
if you ask a vendor for an employee recommendation, keep the referral
under your spray cap.

Fishing in the School Pool

In searching for potential technicians, many shops have had mixed
results with their local vo-tech or college autobody programs.

Danny Martin of Karoll-Martin Paint & Body in Tulsa, Okla.,
says, "We always take an intern each year from the community
college program, and the students get real-world experience. Our
last four technicians are vo-tech-program graduates." Other
shops, however, have had little luck with their local school-trained

Shop owners agree that a vo-tech or college autobody programs
should give students the basic skills necessary to find employment.
They also agree that school programs should not be expected to
deliver students who can produce 80 hours of work their first
week on a job.

Whether or not your local vo-tech or college autobody program
provides the necessary skills depends a great deal on the instructors
and you. If the instructors understand how body and paint work
are performed in real-world collision shops and can communicate
that understanding to their students, more of those students will
make successful leaps to employment, perhaps at your shop. If,
on the other hand, the instructors aren’t up to date on industry
trends or aren’t good communicators, then the students may not
be qualified.

By getting involved with your local vo-tech or college autobody
program, you, too, can affect what students are taught and can
ensure that the next graduates have the skills you’re looking
for. Get on the advisory board; visit the school; invite the class
to tour your shop.

"I was asked to be part of a committee to evaluate our local
autobody program for certification," says Keith Neal of Dodson-Williams
Inc. in Springfield, Mo. "What I saw was most impressive.
They have new equipment and a very thorough program. It’s changed
a lot in the last few years."

If you’re already in the process of hiring a recent graduate,
call the school and inquire about his or her performance and work
attitude. Vo-tech instructors are quick to tell anyone that not
all students are created equal. If you’re still looking and think
your local college has a quality autobody program, call an instructor
and ask for the names of top students in their junior year – and
then hire one part time until he or she graduates and can become
a full-time technician.

An Inside Job

To avoid the unpredictable results of a help-wanted ad or other
outside employee search, a large majority of shops promote from
within their current ranks when a position is open. Making a head
painter out of the painter’s helper and hiring a new helper is
always an option. If that painter’s helper can do the work required,
has the necessary technical skills and is familiar with your shop’s
production flow, it will take him less time to fit into the new
position than it would an outside hire.

Know What You Want

However you find new technicians, be clear about what it is you
require from an employee. Tell any potential employee what you
expect before you put him or her on the payroll, and if the production
in your shop runs at 175 percent, make sure the new hire understands
just how fast that is.

A good way to be sure employees know just what job requirements
are expected is to create written job descriptions for each position.
This way, when a new employee is hired, he or she is completely
dependent on the shop management – you – to define the job requirements.
With a thorough job description, that qualified new hire you’ve
just invested time into finding will become a valued employee
investing time in your shop.

Writer Mark Clark is owner of Clark Supply, Inc., in Waterloo,
Iowa, and a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

Once You’ve Got ‘Em, Keep ‘Em

Now that you’ve found the painter or body technician of your dreams,
how do you plan to retain that employee long term? After all,
it’s not worth finding ’em if you’re not going to keep ’em.

Many shops offer their employees additional training opportunities.
Others who’ve got some certified technicians are intent on getting
all of their technicians certified.

One position in the body shop that seems to have a high turnover
rate is that of gofer or porter, in other words, low man on the
totem pole. In talking with several shop owners, it seems that
getting these employees – whose responsibilities range from shuttling
and cleaning up cars to performing maintenance work – to come
to work everyday is the biggest obstacle. Even shop owners who
thought their porters where doing acceptable work complained that
they couldn’t count on their attendance.

Since no one wants to spend the first of every month paying bills
and looking for a new porter, consider making the job more attractive.
A promise that 90 days of good work will result in a promotion
to painter’s helper may be just the incentive needed. Include
the porter in shop meetings and ask your most productive technicians
to explain what they’re doing as they repair or repaint a vehicle.
If you make the porter feel like a member of the team instead
of odd-man-out, he may stick around and become your next most
productive technician.

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