Article

The Technician Shortfall: Proper Recruiting, Hiring and Training to Attract and Retain Qualified Individuals

June 2008, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by John Carroll - Also by this author

Every year, the Penske Automotive Group spreads its recruiting net far and wide to bring in more than a dozen top automotive technicians to staff its 22 dealerships in Arizona. They’ll advertise in Chicago, California or even back East to attract the attention of the A-level mechanics. The best and brightest in the group come on board knowing that they have a potential to earn six figures or more.

“The top technicians are certainly earning six figures,” said Jon Wiggins, Penske’s vice president for Arizona and Nevada. “Of course, there are a lot of technicians in the $60,000, $70,000, $80,000 range. If they don’t want to remain technicians, a lot go on to become service writers, managers or shop foreman—and even GM. We have one case brewing here where someone who started as a technician will be our next general manager. With an operation this size, there’s a lot of food chain there.”

At the bottom end of the technician food chain are all the C-level technicians Penske needs; men and women who may get started on the shop floor doing the simplest kinds of maintenance work before graduating to the quick lube jobs and then getting a shot at rising to the cream of the technician crop.

For those entry-level jobs, Penske prefers to go right to Universal Technical Institute’s (UTI) Phoenix campus and invite a select group of students to come and work part-time to get their foot in the door for about $10 an hour. While they’re still doing coursework, students get a chance to see automotive work from the real-world perspective of a money-making shop while the auto group has a chance to observe which of the students they want to hire fulltime.

Nobody is promising them a rose garden. “They’ll start off cleaning the garage and we can get a feel for their work ethics,” said Wiggins. That’s pretty low on the totem pole when you consider that an associate’s degree at some of the top automotive technical schools can take two years to complete and cost upwards of $23,000, plus additional expenses for advanced class work in a particular make.

Many, if not most, of these graduates are headed for jobs that initially pay about the same starting wage as Penske. Once out in the real world, many also face the second stage of their qualifying process: working to become ASE-certified mechanics as they gain experience on the shop floor. For trustworthy mechanics that stick with the profession and advance to master status, and maintain scrupulously clean driving records, there’s a real upside.

Several technical schools say that slightly more than half their graduates wind up at dealerships, while hosts of newly minted automotive technicians take positions with the after-market companies that specialize in hiring entry-level workers for low-paying positions. Too many dealers and service managers simply miss the boat when they overlook fresh crops of new graduates that come into the job market each year.

What Smart Dealers Do
“Every new car dealer wants to whine that you can’t find technicians,” said Don Reed, a fixed operations consultant at DealerPro. “And they whine because that’s what the dealer hears from the service manager.

“The service manager often has this narrow-minded approach to recruiting,” added an exasperated Reed. “If he’s a Ford service manager, he’ll say, ‘I can only hire a Ford technician. I can’t hire a GM technician,’ which is absolute nonsense. Problem number two: They’re looking for the highest skill level; an ASE certified master technician. There’s no question that those guys and gals are scarce.

“Dealers need to look at lower skill level technicians. There are several benefits: They’re a lot easier to steal from somebody else and they make you more money because they have a lower cost. You hire an A mechanic at $25 an hour, a C for $15 an hour, and your labor rate is $75 an hour. So you’re paying $25 to get $75 or paying $15 to get $75.”

That’s why so many dealers are getting beat out in this business by the Jiffy Lubes, Wal-Marts, Midases and Goodyears of the world, said Reed. The smart dealers are going straight to technical schools and junior and community colleges to hire entry-level mechanics. They’re often eager to learn on the job and are really motivated by performance-based pay plans. “I hired some techs from UTI and had great success with them,” said Reed. “Dealers need to sell the benefits of working for a new car dealer better. Their mechanics don’t have to work nights like at Firestone or Wal-Mart. They don’t have to work on Sundays, while the after-market is open seven days a week. A new car dealer can offer a five-day workweek and pay for holidays, and a lot of them have health insurance as a benefit. They can also offer paid time for factory training programs.”

There are also some benefits for dealers to consider when hiring from some training schools. Some states offer hourly job subsidies for new hires, something that a state dealers’ association could clarify quickly.

“Dealers don’t do much training,” added Reed. “On product skills they have to send technicians to regional training centers for that specific type of repair, but that’s really a small part of the picture. The lion’s share of service work today is maintenance; it’s not heavy repair. In the 70s, it was just the opposite. There was more heavy repair work and less maintenance.

“With new warranties and better cars, it’s primarily a maintenance world now. Things like tire rotation, front end alignment, shocks and struts, and that sort of thing. That requires the skill level of a C-level tech. You increase your income through repair, not overhauling transmissions. You get a remanufactured transmission and slap it in the car. So the growth opportunity you have is there for every dealer in the country.”

It Takes More than Know-how
Gary Campbell is about to lose one of the six automotive technicians who works on his lot in Orland, California. The mechanic has found a job closer to home at a franchise operation and the independent dealer knows it’s going to be a struggle to recruit a replacement. “We’re desperate for technicians,” said the dealer, whose rural location can make it tough to find qualified mechanics.

As a result, Campbell prospects wherever he can, including with his contacts at the regional junior college. There, he can find top students to intern at the dealership while they get their ASE certification and pass their final round of courses. 

“We also work with the local high school auto shop teacher for summertime employees,” said Campbell. “That way we can evaluate them, see how they work. We haven’t had much success running ads in the paper because we’re in a small community. We have a good relationship with WyoTech, but they’re 100 miles south of me in Sacramento.” Their graduates aren’t always inclined to head that far north to earn $10 an hour as an apprentice.
 
As a rule, the automotive schools are quick to acknowledge that starting wages in this business are often low, particularly in areas of the country where the cost of living is relatively low. They also like to point out the upside for top students.

“It varies from state to state,” said Leigh Taylor, director of career services at the University of Northwestern Ohio, which sees its graduates scatter out across the country. “We have students making everything from the minimum wage to $27 an hour in New Jersey and New York. Around $12 to $15 seems to be the norm, and two or three years later, they get up there to $18 to $25 an hour.”

“We have associate’s degrees and diplomas,” she added. “And you can get qualified in alternative fuels; all the natural gas and e85 and propane tanks, diesel and agricultural technology. We have auto diesel, automotive high performance and HVAC.”

An associate’s degree at Northwestern usually takes between 18 months and two years to achieve. Students also need to purchase tools for their profession, but Snap-On Tools has a deal that provides a 50 percent discount on their lines.

“About half of all graduates end up in dealerships,” observed Bill Kingery, vice president of career services in Lincoln Tech’s Indianapolis school, where an associate’s degree costs about $22,000 “for everything.”

“We have our Top Gun program where we require them to go to a dealership for their internship,” he added. “They spend the last two months of schooling at the dealership. That’s one way to get them placed. If we have a student that comes from out of state, we contact companies in their area.”

For those who don’t end up at a dealership, there’s a range of companies that often hire mechanics. “The car auctions hire auto and collision. Then there are all the national chains: Firestone, Goodyear, Midas. You could even have them at NAPA or places like Advance Auto Parts.”

Just because they start at the bottom of the profession doesn’t mean they stay there. Said Kingery: “My niece’s husband graduated from Lincoln 13 years ago and now works for Toyota,” said Kingery. “He makes over $70,000.”

Even for low-wage positions, most dealers have requirements they can’t bend on.

“Driving records are very important; so are clean habits. Dealers really want to screen a little harder,” said Taylor.

“A company cannot hire someone they can’t insure,” said Kingery. “And an insurance company may say no more than four points on a license or X amount of speeding. The higher-end dealerships have higher requirements. A BMW dealership may only allow 2 points. My advice would be that if they’re planning on automotive, their career starts now, not when they graduate. Of course, a lot of these students like cars and of some don’t drive them very well—speeding, drag racing and so on.”

The Importance of Professionalism
The best students graduate with more than the basics in auto mechanics. They also start work with a clear understanding of how to communicate with customers.

“Dealerships are looking for professionalism and customer service,” said Taylor. “The best students know what to do, but also are able to go up to the customer and be articulate about what they’re doing. They want to have that student explain why they took an extra three hours when they thought it shouldn’t have taken more than 20 minutes. We need people to communicate.”

To help them, students get a chance to run through mock interviews. At Northwestern, they take a special class that helps prepare them for the real world. There’s a job search available as well as job fairs.

At Universal Technical Institute, most automotive technicians graduate with a diploma, while the Avondale campus offers an associate of occupational studies degree, said Ray Wheeling, UTI’s vice president of the custom training group.

“The average tuition is about $23,000,” said Wheeling. “That can be much higher depending on additional electives they can take for Ford, Toyota, BMW, and diesel and so on.”

“Every campus has an employment services department that works with students from the day they arrive on campus until they graduate. We do one or two job fairs a year,” said Wheeling, where up to 30 different companies appear to size up students.
“We stress professionalism on campus, in their attire and behavior. We’re getting them ready, with an emphasis on professionalism. We even grade them on it. By the time they leave, they’ve had professionalism hammered into them.”

Maybe one or two of those graduates should think about heading to Orland, where they’d find a grateful dealer waiting for the right mechanic to come along.

Vol 5, Issue 4

Comment

  1. 1. T.M.SIPRA [ August 31, 2012 @ 10:45PM ]

    Talat Masood Sipra
    92-300-2144694, 92-332-0349899
    E.mail: [email protected] / [email protected]

    Professional/Skilled Automobile Technician
    Bachlor of Technology (Mechnical Engineering)
    Section - I - Professional Training

    Trouble Shooting of Carrier Sutrak AC Unit System Dubai / UAE A/c Unit System 06/2009 06/2009
    Maintenance Technician Qualification Report DAIMLER Middle East and Levant Overall 05/2009 05/2009
    Global training, Excellence Dubai / UAE Certificate of Excellence 05/2009 05/2009
    Electric FPS+ Training doors Omni Plus, Evo Bus GmbH Dubai UAE Electric FPS 11/2009 11/2009
    Car Air conditioning Dubai / UAE Car A/c 03/2008 03/2008
    Engine Disassemble / Assemble Dubai / UAE Engine M272/M273 02/2008 02/2008
    Wiring diagram Dubai / UAE Mercedes-Benz wiring diagram 02/2008 02/2008
    Mechanic Course Construction Machinery Training Institute, Islamabad / Pakistan Mechanic II, Chassis Courser Serial 36
    Grade A (77.95%) 02/2004 06/2004
    EFI Course St. Patrick’s Institute of Sc. & Tech. Karachi EFI course
    Grade B 07/2005 11/2005
    Section - II
    Professional Background/Experience / Responsibilities
    Mercedes-Benz for Dubai /UAE
    (Maintenance Technicians in Electrical Section)

    1 ? Maintenance controlling of the Road & Transport Authority Dubai (R.T.A) 255 Buses.

    2 ? Maintenance controlling of I(R.T.A) Dubai New 273 MB Buses.
    3 ? Diagnostic and troubleshooting on the buses.
    4 ? Responsible for RTA fleet 24 hours Road side assistance service.
    5 ? Excellent knowledge about all available Daimler workshop systems, starting from Star Diagnosis, WIS/ASRA and so on.
    6 ? Warranty/Goodwill claim on Mercedes-Benz Vehicles.(Germany, Brazil ,Turkey & Egypt)
    Section III
    Daily Routine Maintenance & Trouble Shouting in following Buses & Trucks

    A ? 2003 Conecto Buses 0345C (Mercedes-Benz Turkey)
    B ? Marco polo Gran Viale buses(Mercedes-Benz Brazil)
    C ? 2007 MCV C120 buses (Egypt Body) Mercedes-Benz Brazil
    D ? 2007 Citaro Bendy (Articul

  2. 2. QURAN INDEX [ November 23, 2013 @ 09:39PM ]

    QURAN INDEX in Urdu, 4 vols set, word to word search. Easy to use

    Original Price 3,250/-
    Reduced Hadia Rs. 2,500/-

    contact
    MASOOD SIPRA
    Sipra House
    E-34 Block F Gulshan-e-Jamal
    Rashid Minhas Road, Karachi.75350
    tel. 0300-2144694
    [email protected]
    [email protected]

  3. 3. sani mohammed [ February 17, 2014 @ 07:10AM ]



    Dear sir,

    We are a manpower company we supply general workers to overseas.We are looking for a counterpart agency in any part of the earth that needs candidates from Ghana. Since, we know are able to supply Ghanaian workers as many as you requires in different categories like, skilled workers, semi skilled workers and non-skilled / domestic helpers, and professionals according to your the country's demand .We positively supply people pertinent to your principles and demands and rest assured for the world class dealing.

    For your inquiries, please feel free to contact us, and it's always been our pleasure to provide a good quality service to all our business partners and wishing you that we could start the business immediately to build a strong business relationship.

    If you feel interested in, Please give me a reply.
    Thank you very much,

    Best Regards
    Mansanko Travel and Tour
    C.E.O Mr. Chambas
    +233 234-912-256

  4. 4. Sean C Chua [ April 25, 2014 @ 08:04AM ]

    Dear sir/maam

    Good day im sean nikolai chua from phillipines im 24 of age.. I hope i can work and find me a work as a mechanic nor apprentice im a auto mechanic graduate hope to find me a work as a auto mechanic im eager to learn and willing to train.. I just want to work as a mechanic its my dream to work in a shop with a automotive facilities.. Thanks

  5. 5. Sean C Chua [ April 25, 2014 @ 08:05AM ]

    Heres my email addres [email protected] pls email for vacancy of auto mechanics thanks

  6. 6. Eduardo Casarez [ June 03, 2016 @ 08:32PM ]

    Yeah keep on paying ten bucks an hour, and give them all the juice. Just so that the dealers make a bigger profit, you will see your surveys dropping and top technicians leaving your dealerships. I worked as a Benz tech for over 12 years, and I saw the same thing happen. That is why I left and got a city job. Good luck with level c tech work

 

Your Comment

Please note that comments may be moderated. 
Leave this field empty:
Your Name:  
Your Email:  

Blog

On-the-Point

Jim Ziegler
Objects in the Rearview Mirror

By Jim Ziegler
The past is right behind us and the future is coming fast. The Alpha Dawg plots a course for your store’s success and shares advice for Elon Musk, Johan de Nysschen, and pre-owned managers.

The Big Talent Drain

By Jim Ziegler
The Alpha Dawg tackles the shortage of talent in the managerial ranks and reflects on Amazon’s rumored foray into vehicle sales, the imminent used-car correction, Hyundai’s plan for the Genesis brand, and the untimely passing of Tammie LeBleu.

A Faster Horse

By Jim Ziegler

Strangers in the Mall

By Jim Ziegler

Opening Observations

Over the Curb