If you’ve been around the automotive industry for any length of time, you probably are fully aware of a couple of things. First, the technician shortage is very real. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this country needs about 76,000 auto service technicians each year between 2016 and 2026. These new technicians would replace those retiring or leaving the industry and fill new openings.
Let’s be clear — the shortage does not just affect the automotive industry. Nearly all technical industries currently face a shortage. However, the automotive industry faces a particularly challenging situation because aviation, marine, wind energy, oil and gas, construction and other industries are actively recruiting from the automotive trades. Pair that with rapid technology advancements that increase the need for technicians, and the supply-demand outlook is pretty grim.
Second, this problem will likely take decades to solve because there is not just one answer to the problem. That is why it is so important to take the time to find the entry-level techs you need today, grow them into the techs you need tomorrow and provide quality mentoring so they stay in the industry for years to come.
Taking a chance
When the outlook to fill a vacancy seems impossible, what is a shop to do? Sit back and watch it happen? Turn customers away? Pay your employees overtime because you can’t complete the jobs during regular work hours?
Perhaps a better solution is to think practically about how to fill that technician pipeline. It could be that the answer is right down the road at your local tech school or post-secondary automotive program.
But wait — can you afford to hire entry-level? Won’t they make a lot of mistakes because of their lack of experience? And will they stay in the industry? Are they worth your consideration?
Though these may be valid questions, there are many reasons to take a chance on entry-level, semi-skilled technicians:
- Their enthusiasm. Career tech students may have tinkered with cars or motorcycles at home, and they have experience from their school shop environment, but this may be their first exposure to a real workplace. With that first job comes the excitement of learning all they can as they work their way to the more difficult skilled tasks.
- Their love of technology. Technology has changed cars in countless ways over the past couple of decades, and more changes are coming down the pike. Students coming out of career tech have grown up with these new technologies and are eager to share their knowledge. They have been exposed to all kinds of computers, tablets, smart devices, and other technology so they may adapt better to rapid technological changes. The old ways have been changing for some time now, and your business needs employees with fresh attitudes that are willing to take the leap with technology.
- Their willingness to learn. Often a new employee, no matter what the age or experience, wants to start with the most complex task instead of learning the basics and getting to know the specific shop environment. Entry-level employees are no different. It may take some coaxing to convince them to slow down and take their time, but it will be worth the effort. An eager willingness to learn may set an entry-level employee apart from those who’ve been in the industry for years and would rather not take the time to learn new technologies or ways of doing things. Good employees always relish an opportunity to learn, no matter what their age or experience.
- Your commitment to grow your own. You’ve heard this phrase before, but have you really thought about the advantages of developing an employee over a period of years? This doesn’t mean you neglect your long-term employees, but it does mean that you make a steadfast commitment to an employee who is willing to grow within your business. An entry-level person can be trained and molded to the traits and habits of your business, and this makes them a potentially valuable team player.
- It might be all you can find. Apart from poaching from your competitors, what are your other options when looking to hire? As mentioned earlier, many career tech students with automotive experience are being drawn away by other industries. Many of these industries involve similar skill sets, and they are actively attempting to out-recruit the automotive industry, either with more compelling opportunities, better benefit programs, and/or more pay at the outset. Don’t let your unwillingness to hire entry-level employees make it more difficult for your business in the long run.