Webinar Recap: How to Survive the Technician Shortage

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Yeah, yeah, we know: we talk a lot about the tech shortage. We’ve questioned its background, how to solve it, and what to do until it’s solved.

Here at Fullbay, we’re all about solving problems. So we were very excited when Jacob and Chris sat down with two of our favorite people: Aaron Picozzi, President of American Diesel Training Centers, and Jay Goninen, Founder and President of Find A Wrench and WrenchWay, to look at the background causes of the shortage, the reasons why the industry is still bleeding techs today, and what we can do to solve things before we reach the point of no return.

It’s an outstanding webinar, and you should absolutely watch the whole thing here (yes, folks—this one’s got video!). But if you’ve only got five minutes, read our recap below and check out the webinar later!

WHAT CAUSED THE TECH SHORTAGE?

We can actually break the entire shortage down to a simple equation: more people are leaving the industry than are trying to break in.

Aaron points out that there are about 40,000 diesel technician jobs up on Indeed.com right now. And that doesn’t represent the entire country; it’s suggested that those 40,000 jobs are only about a third of the actual openings in the country.

It’s a rough number, but it sounded right to our crew. The salaries attached to these jobs are often quite decent, which begs the question: Why aren’t people interested?

It’s been said before that the industry has an image problem. “It is something where we need to look in the mirror as an industry and say, ‘We’ve got a problem, what can we do to fix this thing,’” Jay says.

Additional problems facing would-be diesel technicians include the way our society is currently structured. The crew discussed things like:

  • Emphasis on four-year universities
  • Schools may be incentivized to push students toward universities
  • Lack of shop access at school

HOW ARE SHOPS DRIVING NEW TECHS AWAY?

People don’t leave a business. They leave the manager.

In a lot of cases, that manager might not have had proper management training. They might have been the shop’s best tech, promoted into a new role they had zero experience in. Jay calls it “The Wayne Gretzky Effect”: They were so good, so dominant at their job, that they were terrible at coaching.

The shop hires young technicians who are eager to make their way in the diesel world. These new managers don’t know how to groom the newbies at all—they’re often reduced to barking orders, highlighting everything the greenhorn is doing wrong instead of what they’re doing right. They’re given virtually no opportunity to learn.

Would you stick around in this environment?

Aaron agreed with Jay. He added that it’s important to be transparent about the skill level of the graduating employee. “You can sit in a classroom for as many years as you’d like, but you can’t surge experience. You have to give them a realistic pathway. People have to be trained.”

And that’s up to the manager.

“We eat our young worse than any other industry,” Jay adds. “We have a 42% attrition rate after two years in the industry.” Those are alarming numbers: yes, the industry is attracting people, but they aren’t keeping them.

A lot of this, he believes, is due to expecting results right away. Shops need to drop the one-size-fits-all training programs and develop more patience in the onboarding process because people progress at different rates.

HOW CAN SHOPS IMPROVE THEIR RETENTION?

So, getting people into the industry is only part of the solution. We also need to work on keeping them here, and often that’s going to fall on the shoulders of independent shop owners.

“Companies can do a lot on their own,” Aaron says. “They really can.”

He provides three quick steps:

  • Taking chances
  • Identifying where time needs to be spent to find people
  • Fostering relationships with new and existing employees

This last point is most important. Shops need to create an environment where new techs can ask questions; these new techs also need to be able to ask for advice without getting chewed out.

“I’m not talking about rainbows and sunshine,” Aaron adds, chuckling. “The industry is tough! But you cannot throw a new individual to the wolves and expect them to really flourish in that role.”

Of course, the new techs need to meet the shop halfway. Chris has some advice: “Make friends,” he says. “[Your colleagues] are skilled, talented people. They know a ton of stuff—network, network, network. Get involved in the environment. Be humble.”

 

WHAT ARE SUCCESSFUL SHOPS DOING DIFFERENTLY?

Before calling it a day, the guys discussed some of the success stories they’ve seen coming out of shops that manage to hang on to newbies. Here are a few tactics you can try:

  • Provide clear pathways for advancement and growth. This doesn’t mean promoting someone to manager in six months. It means having a plan for them to follow if they want to expand their skill sets.
  • Hear what your employees want and actively pursue that request. What is important to your techs? Do they want to climb to the top of the shop ladder? Pick up their kids after school? Both? As long as they can still get their work done, help them make it happen.
  • Make incentives that align with the needs of your personnel. An entry-level employee wants different incentives than a master technician.
  • Be more flexible. This, Jay acknowledges, will be difficult, as we’re in something of a deadline-driven industry. But the coming generations want and expect more flexibility and less rigid scheduling, and that’s something the industry will have to square with eventually.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re reading these suggestions and thinking, Fullbay, that’s gonna take a long time, then let us reassure you. The industry itself is not going to change overnight. You also shouldn’t expect your shop to miraculously change overnight.

Look at your own shortcomings. Decide how you can fix them: whether it’s building career paths, having more heart-to-heart conversations with your staff, or both. You need full buy-in when you have candidates—no shoving them to the back of the mental line.

The guys go on to discuss other tips for breaking into the industry and what shops can do to make it an easier process. Honestly, it’s a great webinar, and well worth listening to. We all know we can’t fix things overnight, but we do need to fix things. Have a listen to this webinar and put it to work for you!

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.

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