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Personnel Profile

About the only thing that hasn’t changed during the past year is the employee shortage. Shops are, as always, still in search of a few good techs

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In a constantly changing and evolving marketplace
– where only those who adapt survive – it’s reassuring to know
that some things don’t change: Good techs are still hard to find.

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Maybe that’s not so reassuring after all.

For several years now, the technician shortage
has plagued both small and large operations – and it doesn’t appear
to be going away any time soon. In fact, when asked what the biggest
challenge would be in the coming year, many respondents said finding
and keeping qualified technicians.

What are shop owners doing to lure good techs
to their businesses and to keep them once they’re there? Some
are offering more competitive wages. Based on our responses, collision
repair technicians (journeymen) make $34,748 per year on average,
with entry-level employees making $17,847 per year. When compensating
production-shop personnel, 48.3 percent pay an hourly wage, 22.6
percent pay a flat rate (percentage of billed hour), 19.6 percent
pay a percentage of the shop labor rate, 16.1 percent pay salary,
11.7 percent pay an hourly wage plus commission, 7.8 percent pay
salary plus commission and 3 percent pay by using other methods.


Besides trying to keep paychecks competitive,
some shop owners are also offering benefits – or more benefits
– to keep qualified techs. Not too many years ago, shops were
few and far between that offered benefits. Today, that’s completely
reversed, and shops that don’t offer benefits are the minority.
Only 24.1 percent of our respondents aren’t offering benefits,
while 75.9 percent are.

What kind of benefits? About 71 percent offer
paid vacations, 59.5 percent uniforms, 53.2 percent paid training/education,
49.8 percent medical coverage, 27.1 percent paid sick days, 21.5
percent 401K plans, 19 percent paid funeral leave, 17.4 percent
dental care, 11.6 percent disability, 8.8 percent profit sharing,
7.6 percent vision care and 8.8 percent other types of benefits.


Including the owner, the average shop employees
7.4 people, up slightly from 7.8 in 1996. Of these people, 3.6
work in production, 1.2 in management, 1.1 in a combination of
areas, .6 in office/clerical, .6 in clean up, .4 in sales and
.2 in other areas. About 50 percent of respondents have production
employees who specialize in one area and, of these respondents,
41.2 percent have full-time painters, 39.1 percent full-time body
men, 27.3 percent combination painter/body man, 24.8 percent clean-up
personnel, 14.3 percent mechanics, 7.6 percent assemblers.

About 39 percent of our respondents have changed
the size of their workforce in the past year. Of these respondents,
63.7 percent have increased their workforce – on average – by
2.1 employees, while 36.3 percent have decreased their workforce
– on average – by 1.6 employees.

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When asked what will happen to their workforces
in the next year, 33.6 percent said they would increase, 65.1
percent said they would stay the same and 1.3 percent said they
would decrease.

For those planning to increase the size of
their workforces, from where will they hire employees? About 55.9
percent of respondents rely on employee referral when hiring new
personnel, 38.7 percent rely on newspaper ads, 30.7 percent on
other shops and 26.5 percent on vocational/technical schools.


With nearly 27 percent of shop owners recruiting
employees straight out of vo-tech schools, it’s no surprise that
experience levels for employees isn’t on the rise. On average,
employees have 7.8 years of experience, holding steady from 1996.

Considering employees don’t have as much real-world
experience as most shop owners would like, you’d think more employees
would be participating in training. Not so. About 69.8 percent
of respondents have had employees attend a training session during
the past year – down from 81.8 percent in 1996 – and, overall,
shops spent 7.5 days in training in 1997. Types of training include
manufacturer training (52.8 percent), jobber clinic (51 percent),
manufacturer seminar (31.4 percent), association seminar (28.9
percent), manufacturer on-site training (26.4 percent) and other
types of training (18.9 percent).

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Perhaps the most interesting reason for not
sending employees to as much training as last year was that since
shops are short on qualified employees, they can’t afford to spare
technicians even for a day at training – training that would,
ironically, help them to become more qualified.

While training hasn’t increased, the number
of ASE-certified technicians has. At least 61.4 percent of our
respondents have at least one ASE-certified technician – up slightly
from 57.8 percent in 1996.

It’s worth noting that as shop owners try
to recruit young people into this industry by touting how great
a career choice it is, how much money can be made in it and how
it’s a skilled profession, some shop owners still don’t offer
very good pay, very much training or very many – if any – benefits.
How, then, can shop owners expect young people and their parents
to look upon collision repair as a career field for professionals
when many shop owners aren’t yet treating their employees as professionals?

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Writer Georgina Kajganic is editor of BodyShop
Business.

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