I don’t know what it is like in your area, but we simply can’t seem to hire any qualified people in the Cleveland, Ohio market. We have put all expansion plans on hold for the foreseeable future, and have been running short handed for nearly three years now. We have done all of the normal stuff: help wanted ads, head hunters, internet ads, attending job fairs and a few items I won’t mention here, all to no avail. We have offered a $3,000 signing bonus and a guaranteed 10% pay increase over their previous job if a qualified technician could pass a drug test, stay 90 days without an absence, and become a productive member of our team. Now don’t get me wrong, we have had a bunch of unqualified people apply, and we have even tried out a few that have never lived up to their self-proclaimed abilities.
And here lies the problem:
It appears that the closer we get to critical mass on the technician shortage front, we as shop and business owners have been willing to pay more for less qualified technicians just to fill the space. This problem appears to be driven by the big operators who are overpaying unqualified people just to drive up car count at the expense of quality. We have interviewed many applicants and continue to hear similar reasons for wanting to switch jobs, although they seem to fall into two main groups. The first one talks about terrible hours, bad working conditions, lack of (or shoddy) equipment, and the pressure to sell more and more unneeded services just to keep their jobs. The second group wants to switch just to chase an increased paycheck. This group realizes that there is a technician shortage and they are shopping around for better pay for less work, fewer hours, and no responsibility.
Of course, these are all legitimate reasons to seek a new job; however, the vast majority of applicants have sub-par skill sets and no real world diagnostic experience; yet they want more and more pay and they have been receiving it. This group is being paid above average wages for less than stellar performance, little to no education, very few or no certifications, and just plain poor overall attendance and skill sets. This is due to the overall shortage and the willingness of some to pay whatever it takes just to fill in a spot and keep the work cranking out the door at all costs. I would suggest that this is a bad practice for our industry, and we are simply shooting ourselves in the foot by allowing this to happen.
Almost none of the applicants have any ASE certifications, updated or continuing education, or the drive to enhance their knowledge. One question I like to ask any technician seeking employment with us is, “How many thousandths are there in an inch?” You would be surprised by the answers I receive. If a technician is actually performing brake inspections, you would think they would know the answer to this simple question when inspecting and measuring rotors. I also like to ask, “What is Mode 6,” and the answer I want is, “The correct pressure to perform an EVAP system smoke test.” Again, mostly blank stares and wrong answers.
So how are we going to overcome the technician shortage and balance the pay scales for those in the industry today? The simple truth is, I really don’t know. However, I do know that we as business owners have a responsibility to keep our industry in check and demand the best for our clients. We are the ones who need to set the boundaries, and set the standards for all to reach. We too must raise our standards for our industry, enhance our own skill sets and raise our pricing so we can attract the brightest and best, and pay them accordingly. Let’s face it; a talented, young, mechanically inclined person has many options for their future. We must attract them away from other industries seeking the same skill set and willing to pay more than us; nonetheless, not at the expense of just filling a position to get work out the door. We do have the power to make change,; however, only if we set aside the short-term greed for the overall betterment of the industry.
Don’t forget to enhance your skill set by registering for the 2016 MACS Training Event and Trade Show in Orlando this coming February. I’ll see you there!
Andy Fiffick / Andy@MACSW.org