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From the VP: Retention, Recruitment and Retraining

Focus on the “Three R’s” – retention, recruitment and retraining – and you’ll be well on your way to finding the qualified technicians you need.

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Lou Berman is vice president of sales for Collision Care Auto Body Centers. He also consults (out of market) nationwide. He can be reached at [email protected]

For as long as there have been collision repair shops, there have been challenges in finding qualified technicians.

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In almost 25 years in this business, I’ve never not seen a time where there has been an increase in supply versus demand for technicians. As our industry consolidates and shops close, a shifting of the tech pool creates somewhat of a vacuum.

For example, consider these challenges:

  • There are approximately 39,500 collision repair locations in the U.S.
  • Approximately 2,000 dealership and independent collision repairers left the industry through business failure or exit strategies, closings, mergers or acquisitions.
  • From 2006 through 2009, there has been an estimated shop reduction of 12 percent in the U.S., or 5,500 independent and dealership collision repair facilities.
  • In 2013, the average collision technician was 39 years old, according to the Collision Repair Education Foundation.
  • According to the same study, 48 percent of the technical workforce falls between the ages of 36 and 55.
  • In 2001, there were 214,000 collision technicians in the U.S.; in 2013, there were 173,200. So, in 12 years, the industry lost 40,800 techs (19 percent of the workforce).
  • The U.S. department of labor calculates that, based on increases in vehicle sales and demand for collision services over the next five to seven years, the industry will need more than 181,000 techs.

Considering these facts with the alarming age of the collision industry workforce and the lack of new techs coming into the industry, it makes it all the more important to focus on retention and recruitment.

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Three Key Areas

I’m going to focus on three key areas we call the “Three R’s”: retention, recruitment and retraining.

  1. Retention. At Collision Care Auto Body Centers, we take employee retention seriously and are proud of our technician retention rate. Our employees tell us what companies are doing to recruit and attract employees, but what we see all too often is that there aren’t programs and benefits to encourage those employees to stay with the company. It’s important to design a benefit and compensation plan that’s comparable or better than your competitors’. Flexible work hours and multiple shifts are some things you can implement to encourage acquisition and retention.
  2. Recruitment. Recruitment of technicians at Collision Care is viewed as the entire company’s responsibility. We compensate our employees and managers for bringing in new talent. We’re always on the lookout for new talent, and we understand it’s our people that drive our business. There are various ways to recruit, which I cannot reveal due to confidentiality reasons. Suffice it to say, however, that your local marketplace is an extraordinary resource if you know where to look. Of course, vo-tech schools are a common source of new talent. An apprenticeship program, where you pair new technicians with more seasoned and experienced technicians, is a great way to cultivate new people. Some of the ways in which you have to advertise to attract the attention of the finest techs are extraordinary and unconventional. I’ve seen some companies even do expensive billboards. But before you can even attempt to get the best technicians, you better make sure your house is clean, organized and well prepared.
  3. Retraining. All the employees we hire, regardless of past experience, go through a retraining process. Continuing education is part of that process. A big part of the retention and recruitment of employees is a great organizational structure and an environment that can sustain and allow the employee to grow in knowledge and earning capacity. Some employers consider training as a costly and unimportant expense, but this is not the case when you look at the many benefits both the organization and the individual employee gain from it. Giving your workers the skills necessary to get the job done will boost their morale and reduce mistakes. Untrained personnel may be more costly than even the wages paid to them due to the mistakes they could make. When employees know they’re cared about and invested in, they tend to work harder in order to give back to the company and honor its investment in them. Hard work eventually leads to more production, profit margins and employee referrals. Trained personnel will also ask for less help, improving their own efficiency. At Collision Care, we want to create and sustain an environment that’s conducive to employee recruitment, retention and improvement.

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