Yes, friends, we’re back with another recap from Diesel Connect, this one covering a subject near and dear to many of our hearts: the tech shortage. We heard from trusted expert (and longtime blog guest star) Jay Goninen, the founder of WrenchWay.
WrenchWay’s entire deal is connecting diesel repair shops with technicians. They’ve seen the hiring problems made all the worse by the shortage—making Jay the perfect person to speak on the matter.
WHERE SHOPS FALL SHORT
First things first: traditional recruiting—defined here as posting a job ad only when you need to hire someone—doesn’t work in this field.
Here’s what usually happens in the shop recruiting cycle:
- Someone (or several someones) decide to leave;
- The shop realizes it has an opening;
- Fling an ad on Indeed and declare they’ll hire anyone who can hold a wrench correctly;
- Be mortified by the lack of decent candidates coming through, or hire the wrong person and flood their shop with a bunch of issues (you know the old phrase, “It just takes one bad apple,” right?)
“We call it ‘post and pray’ philosophy,” Jay told the audience. “We get so stuck in our day to day operations, we forget about it [hiring] until we’re desperate.”
Hey, maybe a few decades ago you could put a HELP WANTED sign out and have qualified techs applying straightaway. But that assumes there’s a healthy field to draw from. We don’t have the luxury of that anymore.
The good techs that are out there are…how shall we put this? They’re in demand. They know they’re in demand. Jay broke it down this way:
- 5% of technicians are constantly on job boards.
- 20% of technicians are totally happy with their jobs and are not constantly looking for somewhere new to go.
- 75% of technicians are OK at their jobs—they’re content, maybe, but not entirely happy.
So, when you fling an ad up on Indeed, you’re hitting that 5% who may or may not be the right techs for you. And frankly, a lot of your competitors are going after that 5%, too. “You are competing against everybody on there,” Jay said, “because everyone is hiring.”
You’re starting to see why proactive hiring is a good thing, right? It gives your shop an edge because it lets techs know that you’re out there even if they aren’t actively searching for a job.
Okay, so your Indeed or LinkedIn ad is maybe your first step. You can also expand into social media and Google Ads. And for the love of Snickerdoodles, put your job posting on your website. “Please, please post them,” Jay said to the audience, relating the sad tales of owners who have called WrenchWay for help. If you’re not at least indicating that you’re hiring somewhere on your site, all you’re doing is shooting yourself in the foot.
WHAT SETS YOUR SHOP APART?
At the time of the Diesel Connect presentation, there were 1100 diesel technician jobs available on Indeed in the Phoenix area. Again—that’s just Phoenix. Kind of sobering, right? If you are hiring for one role, that means you’re up against 1,099 other people.
If a chill ran down your spine just thinking about all that competition, fear not. You can get ahead of other shops. You’ve just got to offer more than they do.
Except you do actually have to offer more. When hiring out of desperation, Jay said, shops tend to over-promise things: “We like to go out and say hey, we’re the best shop in the world…but you have to be realistic. There are still a lot of really terrible shops out there. I hate to say that, but we hear from those technicians every single day.”
Let’s assume you run a shop that has a decent culture and you aren’t making your techs’ lives miserable. What can you do to make your shop stand out? Here’s what Jay told us:
- Compensation. “You have to offer a competitive salary, and it can’t be based on gut instinct,” Jay said. Shops often feel they have to be secretive about their salaries and benefits. Don’t do this. Techs talk. Techs talk all the time. Your techs have friends who work at the repair shop down the street. They all know exactly what the others are making.
- Creative benefits. Huh, how about flexible hours? And paid certifications? How about career pathing? Which isn’t, by the way, strictly for younger technicians. What about the 55-year-old who likes what they do, but maybe is starting to feel a twinge in the back? Is there a role for the older tech in guiding apprentices, maybe, or visiting schools to drum up interest? You don’t need to lose all that knowledge and experience. Heck, the industry as a whole can’t afford to lose all that knowledge and experience. Hang on to them!
- Regular benefits. Don’t forget the regular stuff: full health insurance, 401Ks, tool reimbursements, and so on. Look, we get it—some of this stuff (insurance especially) can be expensive. But please, Jay said, get to it “as soon as you freaking can.” That’s something you can’t skimp on anymore.
- A good work environment. Listen to your techs when they tell you or ask you for something—and take action! Even if what they want isn’t doable now, make sure you talk to them and explain to them why. Show them respect—too many techs feel like they’re just a number.
Little things can make a big difference. Think climate control, up-to-date equipment and technology, and actually just caring about them as people. We aren’t suggesting you act as parent or therapist, but that you know your techs.
If the salary is still a sticking point with you (and it is with many), here’s a fun story to cap off this section. Jay was approached by an owner who had watched a rival walk into his shop and offer his techs $5/hour more than they were making. And they all left.
AND NOW, SOME NUMBERS
So…how dire are things, really?
Jay broke it down this way: there are 28,500 job openings for diesel techs projected each year. Many openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force.
The number of workers leaving the field is outpacing those coming in by at least 5:1.
Like, really not great.
Not to scare you all too much, but as Jay said, “It’s gonna get ugly.”
GETTING AHEAD OF THE TECH SHORTAGE
While you can’t inflate the number of technicians currently in existence, you can make your shop a beacon for those looking for work. First, assess your competition. Perform a SWOT analysis. Find out what the shops around you are paying and what they’re offering in terms of benefits.
Then there’s the task of building an employee pipeline. To find active candidates, you should still go to job boards—but you should also be posting on social media, your website (or career page) and doing a lot of networking.
And don’t rule out schools, either. Reach out to the schools around you. Talk to classes, offer tours of your shop, create potential internships, join advisory committees. A big reason young people aren’t even thinking about the diesel industry is because they don’t really know it’s an option. You know the story—the push for four-year universities and all that.
And look, you’re not alone in this. Jay and the folks at WrenchWay are experts in connecting techs with shops—you can always get their advice, too!