The New York Times isn’t exactly the first place you think about when it comes to automotive news. But several months ago, that’s exactly who sounded the warning alarm about the struggles that dealerships are having when it comes to finding and keeping good techs.
One person interviewed for the article estimated that more than 25,000 open tech jobs would go unfilled by 2022. And he called that a conservative estimate. So what’s a dealership to do? Well, keeping a bottle of Tums on hand isn’t a bad idea for starters. But the real key is presenting techs with an offer they can’t refuse.
This isn’t just money—although you should be prepared to pay top dollar for top techs. The real key is to offer a work environment that techs will appreciate. And a large part of that is acting as a professional mentor.
It’s the ultimate irony, really. The key to retention is often giving employees the skills, confidence and experience they need to find jobs outside of your shop. But if you do that, most techs are much more likely to stay because of their personal relationship with you.
That said, mentoring may not come natural to you. You probably got into the business because of a love for mechanical systems, not mechanical people. So let us give you a few pointers on how to be the best mentor possible, which will help keep your shop as productive and profitable as possible.
Define your systems and guidelines. Predictability is a key to success. No one should ever wonder “What should I do in this situation?” No matter what role an employee plays, they should know how you want them to work in that role. That’s where systems come into play. As much as possible, your employees’ jobs should follow a set pattern. First, they do this. Then that. Then this other thing. And they continue down the path until they have a question. At that point, they come to you. Don’t let anyone operate by the seat of their pants. It just leads to trouble—for them and for you.
Hold yourself to your own rules. If you get to operate outside of the systems and guidelines you put in place because “you’re the boss,” you’re probably going to end up being the boss of more people than you expect due to high turnover. You have to lead by example. That’s how you earn respect.
Keep it positive. The more upbeat and positive you can make your shop, the more people will enjoy working there. And the more people enjoy working there, the less likely they are to defect to another shop. Don’t bark orders. Don’t publicly chastise someone when they make a mistake. Provide positive feedback for a job well done. It’s all common sense, really. But with the everyday pressures of a shop, it’s easy to become short or frustrated. When you’re aggravated, take a deep breath and go into level-headed, empathetic “mentor” mode.
Don’t hire just anyone. The easiest way to avoid unnecessary frustration with your people is to hire the right people. At times, you may feel like you just need a few extra bodies in your shop. But if those bodies aren’t the right people for the job, you’re job is going to be harder because of them—not easier.
Mentoring starts on Day One. When you have a new hire, spend as much time as possible with them for the first few weeks. Make sure they understand their jobs and the way you want them to perform it. Then, listen to them. They may have questions you haven’t answered. Or they may have ideas that actually make your shop more productive. Just talk to them as much as possible. That’s how you develop a relationship.
Make training a priority. We’ve talked about this before at length. (Go ahead and click that link). But we can’t stress it enough: training is what makes your techs feel like they’re advancing in their skills and in their careers. And as we said: it’s ironic, but the very training that helps techs get a better job is often the very thing that keeps them loyally in the jobs they have now.