Open any trade publication today and you’ll see not one, but two or more articles on the same topic: the technician shortage. Headlines such as “Technicians, Where to Find Them, How to Keep Them,” “Employee Retention” and “Training – How Much is Enough,” saturate the pages of national and regional collision repair magazines, newsletters and Internet sites. The problem is so widespread that I’m certain most of you have already been – or will be – directly affected by the “labor famine.”
No One Lasts Forever
Some of you may feel immune to this problem since many of your technicians have been at your shop for 10, 15 or even 20+ years. But someday, these outstanding and loyal technicians will retire. How will you find talent to replace them? To make matters more difficult, what happens if one of your senior technicians develops a disability? Or what happens when you decide to expand your operation? At that point, you’ll be joining the ranks of body shop owners throughout the country searching for talented and ambitious employees.
To prepare your business for the future, preserve the integrity of the industry and help alleviate the drought of collision repair professionals, you need to get involved now. If you aren’t already doing so, I strongly recommend developing an aggressive and proactive recruitment stance. Otherwise, you’ll face the dire circumstances later. Those circumstances include a lack of flexibility and adaptability in your workers and a higher-than-usual turnover. And both add a tremendous cost to your bottom line.
Despite the gravity of the situation, you have the ability to prevent this frustrating and costly downward spiral. But first, you must ask yourself, “How willing am I to make education and training a top priority in my shop?” How far back in the educational pipeline are you willing to reach to help the future labor pool learn the fundamental employability and technical skills they’ll need to thrive?
Getting Their Attention
Is it worth your time and effort to target vocational schools or endorse professional training courses? Your answer should be a resounding, “Yes!”
It’s important to realize you’re competing with high-tech training schools such as the DeVry Institute, ITT and others that spend big advertising dollars to lure your potential labor force into computer repair, computer programming and other technological fields. To combat this, you need to reach out to your community and expound the benefits of working in the body shop industry. After all, much lack of interest in becoming a collision repair professional comes from lack of knowledge. We all need to band together to help spread the word that working in this industry has many benefits. Collision repair professionals are highly skilled technicians who work with sophisticated equipment and computers, are called upon to be artistic and creative, can receive competitive employee benefits, have opportunities for upward mobility into management positions, aren’t shackled to a desk or confined to an office, enjoy job security in a growing industry and earn a respectable wage.
You can attract talent to our industry by speaking at high schools or vocational colleges, attending job fairs or even writing an article for your local paper. At this juncture, the goal is simply to bring awareness to the opportunities that exist. And don’t overlook the role women can play in the automotive service industry. In fact, the Women’s Board of the Car Care Council is actively encouraging young women to explore careers in collision repair.
Keep the Training Rolling
Once we have a person’s attention, the training phase begins. As with all occupations, the better quality of training, the better the results – for employer and employee alike. In addition to outside training from sources such as I-CAR, VALE Tech or ASE, you can implement your own training program right in the shop. If you’re lucky enough to have experienced technicians with a wealth of information, don’t let this source go untapped. Initiate an apprenticeship program where your “new recruits” can work and learn alongside experienced techs.
To maximize the training opportunities available to you, don’t rely exclusively on verbal instruction. Invest in professional training materials, as well. These meticulously prepared textbooks, handbooks, videos and guides are written by seasoned industry professionals, making these materials a great source of current technical information. They’re simple to use, can ensure your in-house training program is on the right track and, most importantly, is producing qualified technicians.
Turn to your information provider for a complete series of textbooks and videos that provide estimating, repair, painting, welding and other areas of essential collision repair instruction. Comprehensive handbooks are also available to help your employees prepare for the collision repair ASE tests. Some companies even provide handsome certificates of completion that can be displayed in your office or shop. These certificates can serve to attract and retain valuable customers.
You’ve Got the Tools – Now Get the Talent
Here’s the bottom line: Everything you need to recruit, train and certify technicians is already available to you. All you need to do is take advantage of these resources.
I realize you’re already overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running a complex business. Nevertheless, it’s essential that you find the time to invest in training and recruitment. After all, a little effort on your part will go a long way to ensure the longevity of your business, the satisfaction of your customers, the retention of your employees and the prosperity of the collision repair industry.
Judy Epstein is a senior product manager at Mitchell International.