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International Automotive Technicians Network
Where are all the good Technicians
Posted to Shop Management Forum on 3/3/2013 84 Replies

I once worked as a technician at an independent shop after 11 years at a dealership and laughed at the idea that my employee number was 65, the shop was only open for 5 years. How could a shop so young have gone through so many employees? It's not that they were not busy, doing over 1 million in sales a year and had 5 technicians and two writers, but I was the 65th person to work there? My stint there was for a year and a half and before I left they were up to 72.

I've owned my own shop for 15 years now. We have grown and expanded and we do ok. But after all this time my biggest issue is finding good employees, and I don't think that number is all that funny anymore. I haven't had quite that turnover rate but we have gone through quite a few employees.

Our service writers have been solid, only having 3 over the years, but it's the technicians we struggle with. At first we thought is was our location. A small shop tucked away somewhere, I mean what good qualified tech wants to work in a cramped building with low ceilings. Business was good so we built our own shop. 7800 square feet, 8 bays, 20 foot ceilings in an affluent area of town...beautiful. Same problem. My wife and I have put some serious thought into this, looking at all aspects including us as owners, as to why we cannot find quality employees. Here's my findings.

First of all the technician workforce is depleted. Automotive technicians are in high demand and there is a serious shortage of qualified people today. Young people don't think automotive technician is a viable career. This has in part to do with the public perception of what we do. Were grease monkeys right? Sitting under a car all day slopping around in the grease and oil, dirty and unkempt with a rag hanging out of our back pocket. Who want's that for a career? Also we see people who use it as a easy out, or backup career. "Well that didn't work out, I guess I can always work on cars". In this situation they don't take the job seriously and fail out of frustration on all levels.

They don't teach kids in school that this is a viable option. You learn automotive in "shop class" were you work on staff cars and small engines. They get there first taste of automotive working on neglected cars, or their own car that they bought for $1000 that need $3000 worth of work. This is not a true representation of what the industry is about, or where it's going. They teach basic concepts of the mechanical portion of it (hanging parts) but don't concentrate on the electrical portion (diagnostics) and were that can lead you. Half of what we do in our shop is diagnose problems, I can be out in the shop all day helping my guys in a dress shirt and jeans and never get dirty (well, maybe a little), because I spend most of my time on the computer researching and planning my next step. This industry is changing, and fast. It's not a mechanical game anymore, it's electronic.

Dealer politics, can I get an Amen! You get a kid out of school with a degree all ready to set the world on fire and throw him to the lions at a dealership. Service fights with parts, parts fight with sales, sales fights with service, service fights with sales, parts fight with service. Your relationship with your service writer is critical, make him mad and you don't get any work, your neighbor does. But he's under his own pressure to fight for customers. There can be a lot of tension in the shop, especially if its flat rate, on who gets what work. There's always that one guy who's not very good but keeps score of who's getting what job. "That's the third timing belt he had this week, I want more timing belts". And my personal favorite is when they take the most talented technician in the shop and give him all the tough nut jobs. He's working on an abstract electrical problem that doesn't pay very good because that's what he can do, while your neighbor is working on brakes and suspension because that's ALL he can do. This is really not an issue, and in reality is how it should be, but the better tech should be making double the pay, not being punished because he's that good. I have seen so many "dealer" techs interview with me that are so burned out on politics, want nothing to do with flat rate, or just get out all together.

Todays work ethic stinks. People come in late, don't show up at all, don't take pride in there work and always look for the easy way out. One time we went through three techs in three weeks. One went to OTI (Ohio technical institute, one of the best schools in the country for automotive), he just graduated with diploma in hand and a $10,000 scholarship. After 4 days he screwed up almost every car he worked on and when diagnosing a burnt out tail light he couldn't tell me how many volts he was support to have at the bulb (battery voltage in case you didn't know). As a matter of fact I had to show him how to use his DVO meter...he didn't have a clue. How can this happen after 2 years of schooling? On day five he asked to talk to me and said it was hard on his confidence and made him feel bad when I corrected his errors, I said I can fix that...your fired. The next guy didn't come back after the first paycheck and the third showed up 4 days out of 10 with every excuse in the book, got multiple voicemails to prove it.

Not all are like this but many. I talk to quite a few HR people in all types of business and they all have the same problem when it comes to staffing. We live in a microwave society, people don't want to work for something, they want it all now! They say give me the money and I'll show you what I can about show me what you can do and THEN I'll give you the money. They don't want to work to achieve success, they want it handed to them. Most of the technicians that have worked for us are no longer there because of their attitude. We've forked out some pretty good pay to get people in only to find out they don't know what their doing, are lazy or they develop such an attitude that they become a cancer in the shop.

My last observation I'll make is about looking for the easy way out, or not wanting to work that hard. When my customers bring there car in and are willing to plop several hundred dollars down to get their car fixed I make sure it's done right. When I have a technician come to me with a diagnosis and say "I think this is wrong", my first response is will it fix the problem. If they say maybe, probably, should, might, then we need to get a more positive diagnosis. Usually when I question them they came to that conclusion by researching iatn, google, or some other avenue. This is good but you still need to confirm that this is your problem, you still need to diagnose the car yourself. Maybe the job is over his head and we need to get him some help, which is fine, but we still need confirmation. Or doing a brake inspection and they never pulled the wheels, how can you do that? "but I can see right through the rims!". So now I sell the job and he comes back to me and says a caliper pin is frozen and he can't get it out, now it needs a caliper. Not a good conversation with my customer, and it makes me look like I don't know what I'm doing.

There are some really talented automotive technicians out there, but not enough.Our industry is changing so fast but the workforce is not keeping up. We need to get the word out that this is a viable career to get involved in, we need to change the way we treat technicians and respect them for the knowledge they have and the investment they make in tools, and about the work ethic I don't know. This is the toughest one of all because it's a reflection on how people are raised. I guess I'll do my part and keep looking for the diamond in the rough.

Jeff from Wisconsin

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