Ask any shop owner whether they struggle to attract diesel technicians, and the answer would be a definite ‘yes’. Even though there are 250,000 diesel mechanics in the United States, that is not enough. There is actually a critical shortage.
Five Principles to Attract Diesel Technicians
The following principles will help you attract diesel technicians to your shop.
1. Remember Who Makes the Money
Diesel Technicians are your money makers. At its core, a heavy duty shop is a professional services business, similar to a law firm. The money is made on billable hours. That means if your shop is going to earn money, one of your techs will have to go do something.
Remove unnecessary discomforts from your shop. Give them a place to put their personal things, and have a comfortable place for breaks. It doesn’t hurt to have at least one shower available, and to have a standing Costco order for break room snacks. Not only does this help make a great work environment, but it keeps the techs at the shop turning wrenches instead of leaving in search of food.
2. Help Them Make Money
Most shops in the U.S. pay their techs straight hourly wages. That is fine if you are content with your current level of business. Paying hourly guarantees you having to constantly crack the whip on your techs to be more productive. Not that they have bad intentions or are lazy; but they have a fundamentally different incentive structure from you.
When you only pay hourly, the only way for your technicians to make more money is to work longer hours. There is no guarantee that will bring you any more money; in fact there is a good chance it will simply cost you more.
Structure your tech compensation in a way that when they make more money, you make more money. Then you will be fully aligned financially. Two suggestions for this are paying an efficiency bonus, or paying flat rate.
When technicians perform good work quickly, they are working efficiently. Great technicians are able to bill more hours than they work. This is a win-win for the customer because they are able to get their truck back faster.
Reward great technicians for their efficiency by giving them a bonus. Efficiency is calculated as billed hours divided by hours on the clock. At efficiency levels of 110%, 120%, and so on, pay a bonus that allows the technician to share the increased revenue their skills bring to your shop.
If you are able to do it under your state’s labor laws, seriously consider paying flat rate. Even more so than paying an efficiency bonus, flat rate completely aligns the technician’s financial interest with your interest as the shop owner. The more hours he bills, the more he makes. The faster he is able to get work done, the more time he will have for other pursuits. Flat rate is extremely effective.
3. Help Them Feel a Part of Something
Extrinsic rewards like money only motivate to a point. Studies show that once a person’s needs are met, there is little correlation between money and happiness.
Frederick Herzberg, professor at the University of Utah, argues that just because too little money irritates and de-motivates people does not mean that more and more money will bring increased motivation. Money is simply a poor motivator. This has been found over and over again in research since the 1950s. Yet companies still foolishly believe that money motivates and incentivizes good behavior.
Rewards succeed at securing one thing only: temporary compliance. When it comes to producing lasting change in attitudes and behavior, however, rewards, like punishment, are strikingly ineffective. People who expect to receive a reward for completing a task or for doing that task successfully simply do not perform as well as those who expect no reward at all. (“Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work,” Harvard Business Review, Sep/Oct 1993)
Extrinsic rewards do not work to motivate people. You can create a competitive advantage in attracting diesel technicians to your shop by not falling into this trap. The other shops in your city are most likely locked into this foolish mindset; this is an opportunity to distinguish your shop from the competition.
So how do you motivate people? Help them feel like they are a part of something. Help them feel intrinsic motivation to do excellent work. Trust them to take risks. Give them responsibility. And hold them accountable for performance by posting metrics.
In our shop, we assign dedicated technicians to our fleet accounts. The techs feel ownership over these fleets, and are intrinsically motivated to do a good job in maintaining them. We trust them.
We also pay flat rate and post the weekly billed hours figures for all the other techs to see. Billing hours has become a point of pride, which is also an intrinsic motivation.
“You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm, his loyalty is. You can buy his back, but you can’t buy his brain. That’s where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness.” Stephen R. Covey
4. Help Them Get a Life
Attract diesel technicians by encouraging your techs to have a life outside of work. Besides the intrinsic rewards of a job well done in the shop, and making at least enough money to meet their needs, your technicians should have the time and energy to pursue meaningful relationships. They’ll get the most happiness from spending time with their spouse, family, and friends, and developing themselves personally.
Helping techs be more efficient not only makes the shop money, it makes it possible for technicians to get into work, get a lot done, and then get out of the shop and have a life. That is our mission with Fullbay, and it should be yours as a shop owner. Not only for your techs, but for yourself as well.
5. Get Up to Date With Technology
Unfortunately, the heavy duty repair industry is underserved by technology. Most of the shop management software out there is built on 20-year-old technology, and almost all of it is built for light duty. Don’t frustrate your techs by using outdated technology.
Most systems still require you to print out work orders, and techs have to hand write notes and part requests on paper. They are cumbersome and frankly ridiculous in this day and age. This is one of the reasons we built Fullbay to easily work on a phone or tablet, and to eliminate paper and having to re-write the same thing multiple times. Spend 30 minutes watching Fullbay in action to see if it might be a fit for your shop.
Technicians, especially the younger generation, are attracted to shops that are up to date on technology and are constantly finding ways to improve. It communicates that the shop cares, and is always trying to be better.
Applying these five principles will help you attract diesel technicians to your shop. They are also sound business and life skills practices that will make your shop more money and bring you more peace of mind personally.