Dealing With the Technician Crisis
Few would debate the fact that there is a technician shortage for automotive dealerships in today's market and the problem is going to get worse in the future. There are many reasons for this shortage that will be reviewed in this article as well as the ways dealerships need to deal with this crisis. I believe that dealerships will be placed into two categories the have and have-nots.
You're either going to have the technicians you need to take care of your customers promptly or you're going to constantly be seeking technicians. In all of this discussion never lose the focus the customer is the only reason we have service department. If you believe you can allow your customers to wait several weeks because of your technician crisis you're flat out wrong. If it takes longer than a few days to get your customer into your shop to repair their vehicle you have a technician shortage.
The Technician Requirements
If you have an applicant for a technician in your shop let's look at some of the expectations you might have. The first thing the technician applicant needs is their own tools that generally require an investment on their part exceeding $40,000. They may also have invested an additional $40,000 in a college program to get their primary certifications. All of this investment to apply and the dealer's first question to the applicant would be "How many factory certifications do you have?"
If the answer is zero the application goes in to the circle file and thrown away. What other position in the dealership requires this kind of personal investment? Generally every other position in the dealership doesn't require any investment! Technicians with experience are then asked to sacrifice things they've earned from their existing employer such as vacation pay. We then have an expectation the technicians income will be based on a standard flat rate program.
They're expected to be on site even when the cards are stacked against them due to inefficiencies and poor processes at the dealership. It's no wonder after generations of this treatment there's a technician crisis in our dealerships. Now let's look at some creative ways to deal with the technician crisis.
Look at Your Operation First
Does your dealership provide the best opportunity for your technicians to make a good living on flat rate? Let's review a checklist together.
• Organization of special tools needs to be a requirement that the dealership is proud to illustrate to a perspective technician. The technician should never have to look for a special tool and lose personal income while the shop loses productive labor at the same time as well.
• The dealership should have a plan that delivers parts to the service bays allowing the technicians more time to repair vehicles.
• Every technician should have a customized training program with the ultimate goal to achieve and maintain master technician status. It should be well known that the dealerships cover training expenses as a part of this plan.
• Technicians should have individual laptops or computers in their bays that allow communication between the advisor and parts staff on needs or authorizations to maximize hours turned. Technicians should never be developing price and availability estimates for advisors.
• All shop equipment must be well-maintained and state-of-the-art maximizing the safety of the department.
• The dealership should require diagnostic worksheets provided by the manufacturer be filled out by the advisor to supply all information needed to duplicate and repair the concern illustrated on the repair order.
• There should be a dealership process to deal with customer concerns on noises that includes a ride attempting to duplicate the issue with the advisor or service manager.
• The dealership new car delivery needs to explain in detail how the vehicle functions and what normal functions are.
• Tracking technician fill rates from the parts Department must be monitored so technicians waste little time reassembling vehicles due to parts availability.
• Technicians should have porter staff to locate and pull in vehicles. Hours are wasted every day to have your technicians push snow off vehicles. Your technicians generate about $300 an hour in labor and parts sales. It is better to have the cost of the porter at $12 an hour then to lose the revenue of a technician at $300 an hour. Vehicles should be preloaded in their bays before the technician arrives in the morning ready to be worked on.
• The schedule program must be used to track technician hours available and booked with the goal of 80% of tomorrow's time sold. Technician time can't be stored it's either used or lost. The 20% allows for towed in vehicles and additional time sold during the day.
My experience would illustrate there are many examples where your dealership could improve the opportunity for your technicians to generate more revenue on flat rate. This checklist is merely a good starting point to look at your operations for areas of opportunity. Our technicians need a total commitment from the dealership to maximize their opportunities to generate revenue for their families. Dealerships must stop getting in the way and deal with it.
Attracting and Retaining Technicians
Now let's look at some ways to attract and retain talented technicians in your dealership.
• It is suggested to have a tool account fund that the dealership provides to the technician based on the hours sold. So if a technician turned 50 hours last week the fund would receive a $50 credit to his tool vendor to use at their discretion.
• Develop a payroll accrual account with 40 hours of additional technician time available to be used at their discretion. This would allow technician that was upside down on a job to draw from the pool and not sacrifice financially. At the end of the year in December any hours not utilized by the technician should be provided to them in a bonus.
• It is suggested that the dealership offers a substantial sign on bonus for technicians with high skill levels. This bonus would be $10,000 or more. Consideration should also be given on vacations technicians have earned at another shop they currently work at. If they are receiving three weeks at their current employer and you expect them to not have a vacation until after the first year would you do that? Offset this with cash equivalents until the vacations equal the current benefit at your dealership. Vacations should be paid on the average hours turned. If a Technician turns 55 hours average in a week why would a vacation pay only 40?
• Provide a bonus annually that increases every year the technician remains employed at the dealership paid in December. A dealership has invested over $20,000 to train a master technician. Additional thousands are spent every year to keep their training current. Why not make it tough for them to leave for a better deal?
It could be that when you look at all of these suggestions you determine the cost of all of these items to implement everything would be restrictive. If we realize that the United States has an immediate need of an additional 30,000 technicians with many more required in the near future changes must be made. We must attract future technicians into a career that requires substantial investment in tools and training. Dealerships must understand a quality technician will generate in excess of $150,000 annually in parts and labor gross profit.
Our customers don't care about our issues on technicians they want the car repaired and they want it now. We must change the way we treat technicians. It starts with respect for what they face every day. Cars are hot, dirty, and complicated. The dealerships most aggressive on a program to care for their technicians will attract and retain them. Will your dealership be the have, or have not?
Rob Gehring, President
Fixed Performance Inc.
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Rob is President and Founder of Fixed Performance Inc. which he began over 15 years ago. His passion for customer care and helping others has assisted hundreds of dealerships with their fixed operations performance. His common sense coaching and training lifts people up as individuals and team members. With over 30 years of dealership management experience, he understands and respects the daily challenges of fixed operations. Placing a strong value in people and best practice processes always provide growth. His articles have been published regularly in national publications and weekly newsletters are read by thousands.