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How Your Shop Should Address the Tech Shortage

Shop Management

By John Burkhauser of  BOLT ON TECHNOLOGY

It is becoming more apparent every day that there is a technician shortage.  It is a big issue that the automotive service industry needs to deal with now not later.  Get with your local association and be a part of making this change.

In the meantime, what about you and your shop needs?  What can you do to lessen or even eliminate this issue for yourself?

Let us explore how to keep the techs that you want and make your shop attractive to the few techs looking for that perfect place to work.  Many of the following suggestions will not only help keep technicians, but there is a good probability that you will also keep more customers too!

Even though tech pay is a high priority there are many other items that can be addressed before even considering to deal with this.

Treat Your Employees Well

It is amazing how much doing this one simple thing can make or break a shop.  I’ve have watched managers belittle employees and treat them poorly and still expect the employee to step up with extra effort when needed.  It does not work that way.

Treat all employees well.  Have them involved somewhat in running the business.  This way they have some “skin in the game” because everyone will benefit.  I recommend taking an employee out to lunch occasionally cycling through all your employees.  Talk to them, let them talk to you.  Listen.

As a manager step in to help even if it is to clean up a spill, unclog a toilet, help a tech work on a vehicle.  When it is hot, supply cool drinks.  During the cold do everything to keep your employees warm.

Doing these suggested and other simple things will make a big difference in all the employees’ attitude and your bottom line.  Believe me, this works and it is so simple.

Your Shop

This is the most basic item that will affect technicians and customers alike.  Is the shop welcoming and clean or dark, dirty and in disrepair?  Think about it, is your shop a nice place to spend a large chunk of your day?  When looking for a job as a technician or other position I definitely looked at the facility as part of my consideration of working there.

I looked to the ceiling in the shop to see how much dirt and dust is on the rafters.  Some shops I visited literally had inches of this dust piled up.  Realize there is probably some asbestos in the dust too!

How is the lighting in the shop?  Does it look like I am going to work in a cave?  How much trash or old parts are laying on the floor?  How are the old fluids such as oil and antifreeze handled?

And yes, I would take some time to visit the restroom.  You know you are going to be in there sometime every day.  Is it clean and well stocked?  How does it smell?
These points may seem silly but they influence all who work there.

Shop Tools

Today’s vehicles are more complex than ever. Technicians already have to make a vast investment into the tools they use to fix these vehicles. What tools do you supply as a shop to help the technicians do their jobs?

These shop tools include scanners, alignment rack, vehicle lifts, tire changers even your shop management system. Having the proper equipment in place improves efficiency and getting the job done right the first time. Because of the expense of these tools, many shops hold back on purchasing them. You need to see these tools as an investment in your future, not an expense today.

These tools are worthless when no one knows how to use them. Get all your technicians trained on the use of this equipment so that you realize a return on your investments.

Training

Today’s vehicles are too complicated to just dive in, diagnose and repair. As a matter of fact, I can assure you that this approach to working on vehicles is probably costing you every day in parts, labor and customers. Just one wrong probe with a test light can cause thousands of dollars in damage. Training your employees cannot be looked at as an unnecessary expense. You really can’t afford not to.

Certified training can be had through local Automotive Service Associations (ASA), parts distributors, parts companies and some manufacturers even open their training to the private sector.

To get the technician to buy into the training you can have them pay for an approved course up front. On passing the course you can refund their money. This approach also works with ASE certifications too.

Service Information

This really is a shop tool yet important enough to list separately. With the complexity of today’s vehicles, I feel that it is nearly impossible to diagnose, repair and service today’s vehicles properly without access to a repair information source.

With so many intertwined computer systems interfacing with hardware, one mistake in any system can have a very negative effect on the overall vehicle
Having access to service information will save time, money and result in greater success in fixing vehicles. Instilling in your technicians the importance of using this information before working on a vehicle is also a critical part of the success formula. I find a little time spent reading up on a system before trying to work on or diagnose it, saves time.

Think of it. How many times have you looked into a customer perceived issue only to find it is a normal operating characteristic of the vehicle? What’s worse is spending time to diagnose something that is a common issue and easily found in most service information databases.

Best yet, with technology available today, this service information can be used by each technician on demand in their bays by the vehicle. No more printing and it is vehicle specific when looked up on the tablets. Less mistakes when correctly identifying vehicle information.

The Service Process

The Service Process is everything you do to get a customer to your shop, work on their vehicle, satisfy them, send them on their way and get them to come back again. A shop’s overall success is based on this process. If you are doing service, the same way you have been for ten years you are going to struggle. If you struggle, your employees struggle.

Let us look at it this way and compare a car from the 1960’s to one from today. They both will get you from point A to B but look how differently they do the same job. How much more efficiently today’s vehicles do it. Think about the safety systems and comfort that you drive in now. Think about the horsepower!

Why can’t The Service Process also benefit from technology making it more efficient? It can! The technology is out there and delivers on this promise just as today’s cars do so much more than cars of the past. Every part of the way you do service can be improved on with the use of this technology.

Using tablets and the speed of computers, most all of the barriers that cause your work day to come to a grinding halt can be eliminated. Also, removed from the process is the endless writing, copying and mistakes that are made during write up, actual diagnosis and service of a vehicle.

Inspections of vehicles and their results can be sent directly to a customer’s cell phone with pictures that put the customer’s attention right on the issue being shown. This will build a new confidence and trust between your customers and your shop leading to better sales.

In addition to these benefits, this technology also fixes one of our own created problems in our industry, keeping our customers. Many other service industries set up a customer’s next appointment before they leave. We don’t. This technology will do all of this and send a reminder to a customer for future appointments without staff intervention.

Any improvements to how you handle service from beginning to end will positively affect your bottom line. This, of course, leads to greater success for all employees. Happy and successful employees stay.

Benefits and Pay

With today’s crazy changes in health care and competition, achieving a good balance in pay and benefits is difficult but again an important part of keeping the employees in your shop. Think of employee pay as an investment in your future with everyone you employ. A fair and reasonable pay and benefits system affects a person not only in the shop, but in their overall life. When a person has their work and home life in balance, they will be more productive.

As counter intuitive as it may seem, do not scrimp on vacation and days off for your workers. Everyone needs a break to recharge. And, when I mention everyone, I am speaking about the owner operator too. Remember, striking a good balance of work and life benefits everyone.

Future Employees

You still will need to hire new employees eventually. So, be part of programs in your area such as technical schools. Get on the Advisory Board. Visit the school, give a presentation to the students. Set up a trip to your shop for them to see what a day in vehicle service is like.

While doing the above, get to know the students. Identify the students that show promise and watch them. Encourage and even apprentice them. “Grow” them to your requirements that will make them a good candidate to hire.

Wrapping It Up

You may think that I am crazy with some of my ideas and suggestions. I am not. Look at the top shops throughout the country and you will see that they embrace most of these principles because they work. That is why they are a top-rated shop.

You may look at all the mentioned items and say it is impossible to do these things, and that is probably true. Look over these ideas and work on the ones that are easiest to complete. Adjust them to your shops way of functioning. Most importantly do something.

The bottom line is that a happy employee team will work smarter and harder resulting in more customer satisfaction. Using technology will add to the overall success of the shop and its employees. A great work environment keeps employees and leads to a great future for all.

This article was contributed by John Burkhauser, Director of Educational Programs for BOLT ON TECHNOLOGY. For more great tips to help you build a more successful shop, visit the BOLT ON TECHNOLOGY Blog at www.blog.boltontechnology.com.

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