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Solving the Labor & Skills Shortage: Ideas from Marvin Baker

The collision and mechanical repair markets are experiencing industry-wide challenges, creating a labor shortage spiraling into a full-blown crisis.  Some contributing factors include:

  1. Aging Workforce: One significant factor contributing to the labor shortage is the aging of the existing workforce. Many experienced mechanics and technicians are reaching retirement age, and fewer younger workers can replace them. Professional journeyman techs leave at twice the rate of new people entering the workforce.
  2. Lack of Skilled Workers: Auto repair requires certain technical expertise and specialized skills. However, over the years, there has been a decline in the number of people pursuing technical education or vocational training in this field, resulting in a scarcity of skilled workers.
  3. Changing Perceptions: Younger generations may not perceive the auto repair industry as attractive due to physical demands, lower wages compared to other industries, and a lack of awareness about the potential for career growth and opportunities in the field.
  4. Technological Advancements: Modern vehicles are increasingly complex, with sophisticated computer systems and electronic components. The advancement in automotive technology requires mechanics to possess advanced technical knowledge and keep up with continuous learning, which may deter some individuals from entering the industry.
  5. Competition from Other Industries: As the economy evolves, other industries may offer more enticing job opportunities, drawing potential workers away from the auto repair sector.
  6. Work Environment and Compensation: Some auto repair shops might not provide attractive working conditions or competitive compensation packages, leading to difficulties in attracting and retaining skilled workers.
  7. Pandemic Impact: The COVID-19 pandemic might have impacted the labor supply in various industries, including auto repair. Uncertainty and job disruptions during the pandemic may have influenced workforce dynamics.

Addressing the labor shortage in the auto repair industry will require a multi-faceted approach, including efforts to promote vocational education, improve working conditions, enhance compensation packages, and adapt to evolving automotive technologies. As the industry evolves, it’s essential to attract new talent and retain experienced professionals to ensure a sustainable workforce.

Here are 25 ideas offered by industry expert Marvin Baker, Executive Director, Sales @ Solera that will help your shop retain and attract the best technicians:

  1. Create an above-average culture to retain and attract top talent.
  2. Always be hiring! Look to hire top talent based on attitude, aptitude & experience.
  3. Provide access to and insist that your techs get trained on new technologies such as ADAS and electric vehicles. If your techs are not taking some kinds of training weekly, they are falling behind. What is your written plan?
  4. Embrace “AI” in new tools, training, and processes.
  5. Invest in the best equipment and keep it maintained and calibrated. Additionally, keep the team trained on the equipment.
  6. Provide and maintain competitive wages in your market.  This will be essential to retaining your top talent. Minimum wage for full-time employees should start at what a local McDonald’s is paying plus $3.
  7. Never stop recruiting talent. Some of your best employees will be found when you are not actively recruiting for that position.
  8. Technologies are advancing quickly.  Hire more for attitude and aptitude to work and learn and less for their experience. Whereas traditionally, the opposite was true, and this led to owners and managers hiring and dealing with employees with poor attitudes and below-average people skills because they had the experience to do the work.
  9. Never lose a technician for a reason that is within the shop’s control.
  10. Move to employment agreement relationships based less on at-will employment and more on what each will do for the other and how the relationship will develop over time.
  11. More effective and efficient techs turn bays faster.  Develop and execute a plan to ensure that your staff is producing optimally.
  12. Provide an annual job review.
  13. Update your website to provide a more automated and attractive employment page and experience.
  14. Create and provide detailed job descriptions and the associated pay for current and open positions. 
  15. Create a culture and great pay for your market that your employees will want to tell others about.
  16. Do annual business reviews of your employee benefits to ensure that you are at least competitive, if not aggressive, in the marketplace.
  17. Pay finder fees for new employees. $2,500 is typical. $500 on hire and $2k after 90 days.
  18. Pay signing bonuses to new employees. $1,000-$5,000, depending on the need and position. 25% paid out over each of the next four months.
  19. Pay for moving expenses to new employees to come to your community.
  20. Provide “lunch and learns” once a week and provide and pay for training on all the topics that affect the technician, shop, and industry.
  21. Create and actively manage a customized training program for that shop’s needs. Test and verify your technicians have the knowledge required.
  22. Offer defined career paths and the necessary training to advance.
  23. Hire external headhunters to find candidates for the most difficult positions.
  24. Advertise on Linked-in, Facebook, Craigslist, and other social media.
  25. Create a door display with open positions and a  business card dispenser so 100% of the people who come through that door see the current list and can take a uniquely designed business card. made for them to take.

The above tasks are simple to understand and should constitute simple blocking and tackling in your business. Because all these items constitute working “on your business,” not “in your business,” owners often feel they don’t have the time, money, or energy to implement them consistently. Any business that is not doing 70-80% of these things is creating its own problems, which is the definition of “Bad Culture”. This is another reason that smaller businesses need to grow on a scale to the level needed to hire dedicated staff to do such tasks. It’s time for owners to find a way to get these things done, sell to a consolidator or just get a job.

The definition of insanity is doing the same things repeatedly and expecting different results!

Author: Marvin Baker Our family’s first shop opened in 1953, and today it thrives in Mansfield, Ohio, with 18k square ft and $7M in revenue. Additionally, in that time, our family opened, grew, and sold three other large automotive repair facilities to Gerber. Over the last 35 years, I have worked with over 15K automotive repair entities providing automation and business consulting services.

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