Beat your competition to the head of the (technician) class

Jason Cannon

April 12, 2014

Aside from sports, business may be one of the most competitive games in town.

Businesses have poached top employees from their rivals since the beginning of time, especially when a segment of skilled employees are in short supply, like diesel technicians.

Poaching employees just creates a turnover cycle that drives up incentives and pay, and a recent Successful Dealer survey shows that employees, historically, have been hard to steal. Of those who responded to the survey, 32.5 percent say their technicians have been with the company for more than seven years. Another 17.5 percent say they keep technicians between five and seven years, while another 30 percent say their average turnover is between two and five years. And it’s not very easy to steal the new guys either, with 20 percent saying their turnover is two years or less.

RELATED: Technicians Technician labor shortage a large and growing problem

Recruitment energies would pay more dividends if they were put into fostering a relationship with local community colleges and other diesel technical programs. Most OEMs have certification programs in place, which help fine-tune technical knowledge on Detroit, Cummins, Paccar, and whatever-else engines.

And that’s great. The OEMs have to take an ownership stake in making sure a service network for their product is strong. However, it is up to each individual dealer to reach out to the students – potential employees – on a personal level.

Introducing yourself to your local community college diesel tech department will go a long way in building inroads with that program, and spending some time in front of the class would also be meaningful.

I’ll never forget my eleventh grade algebra teacher spending two weeks solid on some odd-ball long-form mathematical method that I still don’t fully understand. She preached daily to a class struggling to grasp the concept that we would need to know this for college. Frankly, it was life and death.

I spent four years in college and never saw that again, and I for sure never used it in the “real world.” Sometimes, the needs of the classroom don’t translate to the real world.

Giving those students a first-hand idea of what awaits them outside the classroom would be a powerful marketing and recruitment tool. Academic advisors, too, have likely told them of salary expectations, and I can tell you first-hand that academic advisors can be way out of tune with real world earnings expectations for recent graduates.

The national salary average may be well above what a dealership in Small Town, USA, can support. That’s not to say you should go in and kill their dreams, rather make them understand the $40,000-plus annual starting salary they have heard includes a healthy dose of over overtime; that 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. techs don’t earn that, and that 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. techs don’t really exist.

Diesel technical classes from coast to coast are bursting at the seams. They’re pumping out as many graduates as they can, and that number isn’t likely to meaningfully increase in the near future. A lack of interest in diesel technology as a career may be partly to blame for the technician shortage, but another factor is that many programs have a waiting list to get in. Dealerships and the industry as a whole are already poaching students before they can finish the program, and supply still can’t keep up with demand.

Mike Besson, Rush Enterprises vice president of service operations, says his company offers some healthy incentives to attract new technical talent – like help with student loans, help with buying new tools and covering relocation expenses.

The dealership group also hasn’t lost focus on just how important technicians are to the company’s profitability, noting dealerships make substantially more money from an efficient repair shop than they ever would on the sales floor. As such, Rush has a generous recognition program that allows technicians to earn additional bonuses and spiffs based on performance, and they’ve made sure that training was continuous.

And let’s not forget, truck dealerships aren’t the only ones in need. John Speights, diesel instructor at Shelton State Community College, Tuscaloosa, Ala., says many of his students land work with construction companies who need heavy equipment techs and some even find their way on the river, working on barges and tugs.

If you’re going to solve a labor shortage at your location, it’s going to have to be at the classroom level. They are the future of this industry, and if you’re going to stem the tide of technicians nearing retirement age, you’re going to have to wait for them at the classroom.

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