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Ask any shop owner whether they struggle to attract diesel technicians, and their answer will be a definite yes. The BLS estimates there are 285,000 diesel mechanics in the United States. That seems like a high number, but it’s actually a critical shortage.

Your techs are the beating heart of your shop. Without them, you don’t have a shop. But the current diesel tech shortage means you’ve got an upward battle to fight when it comes to hiring.

What can your shop offer a tech that others can’t?

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, your techs need to be doing things.

Remove unnecessary discomforts from your shop. Give them a place to put their personal things and a comfortable area 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 foster 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. But paying hourly guarantees you having to constantly crack the whip on your techs to be more productive. It’s not that they have bad intentions or are lazy — they just have a fundamentally different incentive structure.

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; actually, there is a good chance it will cost you more.

Structure your tech compensation so 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.

Efficiency Bonus

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 can 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.

Flat Rate

If you can do it under your state’s labor laws, you should seriously consider paying a flat rate. Even more so than paying an efficiency bonus, a 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 rates are extremely effective.

3. Help Them Feel Like Part of Something

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, a psychologist and professor at the University of Utah, argued that while too little money irritates and de-motivates people, throwing more money at a situation won’t magically change their mindsets. Simply put, money is 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)

So many shops operate under the belief that money is the only thing that motivates techs — they’re wrong, and this is an opportunity to distinguish your shop from the competition.

So how do you motivate your techs?

Help them feel like they are a part of something. Trust them to take risks. Give them responsibility. Hold them accountable for performance by posting metrics. All of this helps a tech — or any other person, for that matter — develop a deep-rooted sense of responsibility and motivation toward their workplace.

At the last shop I worked at, we assigned dedicated technicians to our fleet accounts. The techs felt ownership over those fleets, and were deeply motivated to do a good job in maintaining them. We trust them.

We also paid flat rate and posted the weekly billed hours figures for all the other techs to see. Billing hours became a point of pride — pride, by the way, is another great motivator.

“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

Staying at the shop day in and day out doesn’t do any good. Your techs need a life outside of work, and you need to encourage this.

Besides the internal good feeling that comes from a job well done, and making at least enough money to meet their needs, your technicians should have the time and energy to pursue their own interests. They’ll get the most happiness from spending time with their spouse, family, and friends, as well as 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 should be your mission as a shop owner — for your techs and yourself.

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; you’re still printing out work orders and asking your techs to write down notes and part requests on paper. It’s a slow, clunky progress…and frankly ridiculous in this day and age.

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 instead of maintaining a static, “good enough” existence.

So why not give your techs every advantage to do better, more efficient work? There are several types of software out there that will help you automate shop processes and save paper (and time and money) in the process. Trust us, there’s no need to have your techs scrounging around writing up parts orders by hand, or waiting for authorizations. Techs want to be part of a cutting-edge shop.

These five principles will go a long way in attracting diesel technicians to your shop, but hiring is only one part of the adventure that is recruiting good workers.

You gave us a lot of feedback after our most recent webinar, and we listened. In the coming weeks we’re going to look at other topics that factor into hiring, like recruitment tactics and continuing education for your techs.