Creating Career Paths For Service Technicians

May 2008, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Justin Spath - Also by this author

Every couple of months a new survey is conducted by a professional organization, a magazine, a newspaper, a Web site, or someone else with the goal of "finally" determining why employees quit their jobs. We, as employers, anxiously read the results thinking that there may be some new hidden truth to explain our turnover. Each time we are given “new” insight on the same things we’ve always heard. Employees quit for the same reasons they always have: money, opportunities, management, etc. It never changes.

The fact that it never changes, however, indicates that we may not be doing everything we can to address those reasons. This month, I want to focus on one cause of employee turnover, specifically regarding the service technicians of our dealerships—lack of career opportunities and advancement.

Traditionally, a service department will be composed of the service manager, assistant service managers/service writers, service technicians and other positions, depending on the size of your dealership. The positions are clearly defined and there is very little overlap between them. Most often people stay in the positions they were hired for with occasional lateral moves or specializations. Although this works for a time, it’s probably not going to work long-term. Even people who love their jobs do not want to be doing the same job forever. They want to know there is the opportunity for growth and advancement. Think about it.  Are you still in the first job you had? Of course you’re not.

How can we address this problem? The best way is to establish clear career paths for your service employees. This is not an easy task because the service department has a fairly nontraditional organization structure. In many other departments, career paths are clearer. The staff accountant can work his way up to accounting manager and maybe someday to controller or even CFO. This is possible because the accounting skill set is transferable to these positions.

However, service technicians are not working their way to assistant service manager, as the skills sets are different. Many service technicians have no interest in ever being a service manager. These service technicians require an alternative career path (ACP) that rewards them for their experience and skills, but doesn’t try to force them into a traditional career path. I will describe a simple ACP that you can adapt for use in your dealership.

In our sample ACP, there will be four divisions within the service technician’s job description. The first division is the junior technician. Junior technicians will be individuals who have recently completed a technical program and are beginning their careers. They have little work experience, may not have any certifications yet and are probably going to do a lot of the basic work in your service department like fluid changes or tire rotations.  They will assist the more experienced technicians with larger jobs, but will generally not work independently on problems. There’s a good chance you are going to pay them an hourly wage rather than book rate or some other payment method.

Our second division will be the intermediate technician. With several years experience and ASE or brand specific certifications, intermediate technicians can handle most jobs that come through your service department. They are able to work independently with only the occasional assistance from another technician. Generally, they are going to work at book rate or another equivalent method of pay.

The third division is the senior or lead technician. Senior or lead technicians will probably have 10 or more years of experience, hold multiple certifications and likely will have completed almost all of the training available from your organization and its affiliated product lines. They work with minimal supervision and commonly assist less experienced technicians in identifying and solving problems. Their pay is at book rate or equivalent and probably includes a premium over the listed rate.

The specialized technician is our final division of technicians. Specialized technicians operate slightly outside the structure of the first three divisions.  As the name says, these technicians have specialized skills in specific areas such as transmissions, exhaust systems or alternative fuel systems. These technicians may be at any point in their career, but will always exhibit specialized skills and primarily focus on that area of specialization.

You see that I’ve not said anything you probably aren’t already doing, though maybe not with a formal structure. Without a career path in place, however, you essentially tell newly-hired employees that they are now service technicians and will always be such unless they go elsewhere. By developing an ACP for the service technicians, you allow them to see a way of developing themselves within your dealership rather than looking elsewhere. This allows the service technicians to gauge their own career progress, while also enabling you to measure their improvement over the years.

By guiding the development of the service technicians at your dealership, you can easily address one of the primary reasons employees quit. Through the use of an alternative career path, we can formalize our service technicians’ development, strengthen employees and engender greater loyalty to the organization, which can lead to an overall improvement in the dealership.

 Vol 5, Issue 4

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