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Changing the industry starts with our own shop practices

Get involved and try new recruitment tactics to fight against the tech shortage
Thursday, January 19, 2017 - 09:00
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You might not have had the pleasure of trying to hire a millennial technician, but someday you are going to have to. As the proud grandfather of 16 grandkids, I have had the privilege of watching firsthand a few of them thinking about careers. I was listening to a former shop owner and now ATI coach, Kim Hickey, tell a funny story and I thought her suggestions might help you.

Training Checklist for Entry-Level Employees
If you would like a training checklist  for new entry-level employees, go to Every shop is different, so feel free to add anything to the list that you feel is important. It will help you get a new millennial tech on board so he doesn’t quit after you have found him.

Kim began by saying: I had the pleasure of being driven home from the airport by a millennial named Vinnie. Vinnie was a pleasant young man. He has been attending community college for quite a while (for much longer than it takes to get a degree) and working part-time. We were stuck in traffic for an hour and during that time the subject of politics came up. Without getting too much into detail or getting on my political soapbox, I will just share with you that Vinnie thought Bernie Sanders was “the man.” Vinnie thought all of Bernie’s free programs were the answer to everything, and it downright upset him that a “kid” should have to pay for his or her own education. I felt compelled to ask Vinnie who would pay for all these “free” programs. He didn’t know, but still thought it was a good idea. I asked him if he thought that people put as much commitment and care into things they did not work for as they did when it was something they earned. He didn’t know. I asked him if any degree should be free, say for example Puppet Arts (yes that really is a major). He said of course not, that would be stupid. I asked him who would get to pick what majors would be considered for “free” tuition. Again he didn’t know, but still thought it was a good idea. I asked him what was taking him so long to get his degree, and he was quite honest with me. He said he is very lazy, gets bored and partied a lot.

I couldn’t help myself but to point out to Vinnie that even without Bernie Sanders and his “free” college program, there are opportunities right now that allow for students to go to college for “free” or at least get a portion of their tuition paid for. If you work hard and have great grades, there are many scholarships available. He said he knew that, but didn’t want to put the work in during high school. I asked him if he knew that most colleges had programs where you could work there and that could help subsidize tuition. He said he did, but he didn’t like that idea. I then brought up how there are companies out there that will pay for college for their employees, like Starbucks for example. He scoffed at that and said “Yeah, no way would I work in a Starbucks.”

What does my conversation with Vinnie have to do with you and the automotive business? It reminded me of a song by 10 Years After. The chorus goes like this:

I’d love to change the world
But I don’t know what to do
So I'll leave it up to you

Can't find technicians?
I often hear shop owners tell me they can’t find good techs. That the number of available good techs is dwindling. I hear all sorts of reasons this is occurring, and I agree with almost all of the ones I have heard. One popular school of thought is the money involved in learning to be a tech scares potential techs away. With the major tech schools costing anywhere from $40,000 to over $60,000, and then an investment right off the bat of over $10,000 to start for tools, this is seen as an expensive trade to get into (we won’t even get into that the tech schools don’t give their students a realistic starting pay range).

And just where can kids go to get the automotive bug these days? I don’t know about you, but where and when I grew up, somebody was always working on or “souping up” a car. Everyone had a dad, an uncle, a big brother or someone who was hunched over a car in their backyard during every family picnic and barbeque. If you wanted to speak with that person, you approached them knowing you would be handing them tools and would also be getting a lesson on what each tool did, and how to set timing, and what the points and plugs did and getting grease on both you and your hamburger bun.

We have known a shortage was coming for years. We have known it is getter harder and harder for years. We have had discussions about the cost of tech school, the cost of tools they must buy, the stigma that techs are still “grease monkeys,” and so on. But guess what, no one that I know of (with the exception of a very limited few) is doing anything about it. Everyone talks about the problem, but few are willing to put in the work to create a solution. Many want to change their pay plans so they can offer a tech – that they say they can’t find anyway – more money than they can afford.

If we want to change the world, the technician shortage, or the perception of the automotive industry, we can’t leave it up to everyone else. Guess what, everyone else is leaving it up to us. The tech shortage situation is not going to change until we do. I want to leave you with a few questions to think about:

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