Piped In: What’s a Tech Pipeline, and Should I Make One?

Call us today (385) 399-0922

Who here is excited to read more about the tech shortage?!

*Crickets*

Okay, we don’t blame you. We’ve written a lot about it, too.

Well, friends, you can rejoice, because today we’re going to talk about a potential solution.

Specifically, we’re going to take a look at how shops can construct and even be part of a pipeline that funnels potential techs from high school into tech school—hopefully landing them back at the shop (or at least in the diesel industry).

We knew we needed some help on this one, so we got in touch with our friend Jay Goninen, Founder & President of Find A Wrench and Co-Founder & President of WrenchWay. Jay has built both of these organizations around connecting techs with shops, and WrenchWay just kicked off a new project called School Connect to help shops and schools figure out ways to work together.

Just as we hoped, Jay had all kinds of wisdom for us. If you’ve been wondering where to find your next tech, this article is for you!

Why should you have a tech pipeline?

To best set the scene for why you need a tech pipeline, let’s first take a look at what happens if you don’t have one.

A tech leaves. You need a replacement. You’re behind already. You end up hiring the first person who walks in. Maybe you get lucky and that person is a good fit…but maybe they aren’t. Maybe the person you’ve hired doesn’t align with your shop’s culture.

Culture? you might be saying. What is this, an agency?

Take it from Jay, folks: “Culture isn’t just a buzzword. If you add somebody that doesn’t fit who you are and what you value, and what your true mission is, you’re gonna struggle.” Most often, this manifests as hiring someone whose personality just doesn’t gel with your existing staff, but it could also be someone who doesn’t believe in putting in extra hours where necessary.

Basically, the struggle will look different for everyone. Either way, it can cause disruptions in shop flow.

Jay equates techs in the shop to football players in the field. They all need coaches (or service managers), but at the end of the day, they’re the ones getting it done. To take the sports metaphor even further, “You’ve seen groups of talented people who just couldn’t get it done … maybe you’ve got personalities that bump up against each other and aren’t a good fit.”

Basically, instead of just looking for technical aptitude, you want the techs you hire to fit in with your other people. You want them to work well together. Creating a pipeline helps you do that.

More specifically, a pipeline makes it easier to add the right person, not just the next person.

How do you build a tech pipeline?

In a successful pipeline scenario, the repair shop becomes the joint between the high school and the tech school (or a college with a diesel program). That does mean you, the shop owner, have two relationships to build.

You might be tempted to bypass the high schools entirely, but that way lies ruin. Shops that go straight to tech schools often just end up frustrated because tech school students mostly already have jobs.

So you start out at the high school level. You work with your local high school by hiring apprentices from amongst the upperclassmen, who you can then send up the pipeline to a local tech school when they’re ready.

This may be the point where some of you are tempted to stop reading. Fullbay, you’re saying, if I ship apprentices off to tech school they will go to my competitors.

“I think the more people you put into the industry, the less likely you’re going to have competitors try to poach those people,” Jay said. “Techs get offers every day. Don’t be discouraged by that part. Focus on growing communication between the high school and the tech school.”

Does this take time? Yes. But it works in everyone’s favor. “You can help your local tech school get stronger by building better enrollment; you can help your local high school get more visibility to the industry as a whole, and hopefully you can become the conduit between the school and the tech school and keep feeding people to the tech school,” Jay says.

For your shop and for the industry

Start with the tech school. Pick their brain on what they need for their particular program.

Then head for the high school. If the school has a diesel program, or some kind of shop program, great! But a lot of schools don’t. That doesn’t necessarily matter; you’re looking for willingness to learn. You can offer tours to prospective students and their parents, or give presentations to interested classes at the school. Everything you do is a small step toward introducing more young people to the industry—and that’s something we absolutely need to do.

If all this is making your eyebrows go up, we get it. If you’re trying to hire techs, you’re already shorthanded and trying to put out several fires at a time. Fullbay, you’re saying, do I really have time to go around chatting up educators?

Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. Here’s a different way to look at it: when you’re building a pipeline, you’re creating something for the betterment of the entire diesel industry, not just your shop. Sure, your shop will benefit from it eventually, but this is really something for everyone. Have you heard the saying about wise men planting trees whose shade they’ll never know?

Yeah. It’s like that.

If you’re ready to really get to work on this, Jay recommends working with other nearby shops. He told us about a group of independent shops in Illinois who put together a network to better communicate with their local school. “They’re holding themselves accountable as a group. They’re in constant communication with the school. They don’t view each other as competitors…and that’s what our industry needs to get better at,” he adds. “Instead of viewing other shops as competitors, we should view them as resources and grow relationships with them. Maybe lean on each other a little bit. If you can have more than just yourself involved with the school, you can put together a better program.”

Or, try WrenchWay

So, we’ve established that building a pipeline starts with communication between yourself and local schools. But you don’t just have to start cold calling.

WrenchWay is a lot like Fullbay in that they try to make life easier for techs, shop owners, and everyone else in the diesel industry. Their new tool, School Connect, makes it easy for schools and shops to get in touch. They can post projects ranging from looking for donations (like workbenches) to bringing a tech in to speak to a class. Conversely, a shop can post their own projects: if they’re taking on an apprentice, or want to provide a presentation to a classroom.

“It really is a conduit between the shops and the schools,” Jay says. “It lets you see what schools in your area are looking for. It’s got high schools and tech schools on it.”

The School Connect portion of WrenchWay is free for shops and schools. Jay knows that this tool isn’t going to solve the tech shortage by itself, but it’s a stepping stone. Check it out and start building your pipeline today!

Suz Baldwin

About Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.

Subscribe for heavy-duty best practices