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Qualified, motivated technicians are key to any collision repair facility’s performance. However, finding these collision repair professionals today is more challenging than ever. It isn’t enough to put out a “help wanted” sign and expect a line of skilled technicians to show up at your door. Finding the right people – and keeping them – requires a more comprehensive approach that starts with technical schools, includes on-the-job training, leverages a team culture and outlines a path to success.
With three CARSTAR locations in Sidney, Troy and Piqua, Ohio, we’re experiencing the same thing many other businesses are right now: a lack of good candidates. It’s crazy that so many good-paying jobs are going unfilled in our area of the country. I’m very fortunate to have a strong, loyal staff who do an amazing job, but our workload has increased to the point where I could add a quality employee or two, if they were available.
Planting the Seeds for Success
My best resource for new technicians has been the Upper Valley Career Center. I serve on the advisory board for the collision program and also offer internships to the students. I think this is very important, as they are the future of this industry.
As an industry, we need to educate high school students and young adults that there are jobs available where they can make a good income without a large student loan that takes years to pay back. Being a collision repair technician is actually a cool job where you have the opportunity to take a damaged vehicle and make it look new again. That’s a true art form.
At CARSTAR, we partner with the Collision Repair Education Foundation to help fund scholarships for students across the country and build awareness for careers in collision repair. There are also CARSTAR store owners who work with local technical schools in their markets just like I do – all with a common goal of engaging students in our industry.
It isn’t enough to put out a “help wanted” sign and expect a line of skilled technicians to show up at your door.
The collision repair business has really changed from the dusty, dirty image of years gone by. I tell students that the technology involved in the vehicle today demands a thorough understanding of computers and electronics. Conducting vehicle scans and managing codes requires the skills of a video gamer or computer programmer, rather than just the strength to hammer out a fender like we used to.
The business is also more sophisticated, and that requires a different mindset along with skills like accounting, project management, team communication and analysis. I think it’s more demanding, but it has turned into a field that is very rewarding – both in the work you turn out and the ability to earn a good income to support your family. It takes a person with drive, a positive attitude and a good work ethic. If you bring those traits to the table, look out, because the sky’s the limit.
Praise, Training and Guidance
I’ve found there are two paths for shaping a new employee into a valuable team member: hire individuals with the right attitude and willingness to learn, or add experienced professionals that bring skills but sometimes bad habits, too. I’ve had good and bad experiences with both approaches. In my opinion, it really depends on the individual.
At my CARSTAR facilities, we have a team and family culture. This is very important to me and is the reason why we our key performance indicators are so high. A more seasoned employee would have to accept a team environment, and some folks are just not open to this. That’s why I think we have better success grooming our technicians from the beginning.
One key to this approach is pairing a new recruit with one of my seasoned technicians so they learn real-life skills and proper procedures. Of course, it takes time, so you have to understand they aren’t going to hit the ground running. But the trade-off is that you have an employee who is trained in your system and culture. In my experience, this has worked the best, and I have a good retention rate with this approach.
Opportunities to Grow and Blossom
It is also important to educate students about what the future looks like beyond the entry-level job. That’s where coaching becomes critical. As each new person joins the team, I work with them and their manager to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Some may be more suited to becoming an “A” technician, so I make sure they’re getting trained on proper repair standards and earning their certifications. Others may be more inclined toward estimating, customer service or becoming a production manager.
This is where Driven Brand’s Collision University is so helpful. The online program offers a wide array of classes for every aspect of collision repair facility operations, which makes it easy and efficient to put a priority on training.
Finally, I try to find opportunities for team members to grow and blossom. When I open a new location, I look first at my current team to staff the positions there. If someone wants to relocate to a new city, I connect them with CARSTAR owners in that market for potential jobs. There are also times when a team member wants to gain experience outside the repair facility, so I may help them find opportunities with a vendor partner or insurance company. Many times, that person comes back to become an owner of their own repair facility.
Bottom line, if you have the drive, the willingness to work hard, an interest in learning constantly and a positive attitude, you can create a great career in collision repair that will last for decades.