With more complex vehicles, technician turnover grows and competence has suffered

As I approach my 60th birthday, someone recently asked me if I would get into this business if I had it to over again. And the answer isn’t simple.

This business has been good to me. Given where I started out in my career, there probably isn’t another business that would have provided me this level of personal satisfaction and financial success.

But when I got into the mobile distribution business 30 years ago, the automotive aftermarket was a much simpler business. Automotive mechanical systems were fairly similar from one type of car to another. Cars had few electrical components. There were a lot of repair shops around, and most of the technicians working in these shops were capable of fixing just about any type of vehicle that came in their doors.

Nothing about that picture is true today.

How the market has changed

Today, there are at least 40 different kinds of oil grades. I don’t know how many different types of oil filters there are. Automotive systems are almost entirely electronic. It’s nearly impossible for a technician to teach himself or herself how to repair electronic systems.

The level of technical competence among the shops today is much less than it once was.

Even among the technicians who are trained in today’s complex repairs, many of them don’t stay up-to-date on new vehicles. The end result is many technicians out there cannot handle a lot of the vehicles that come in the shops.

I am surprised by the amount of technician turnover I see in the shops.

The need for technical training has increased astronomically in the automotive repair business. Unfortunately, the industry has not figured out how to address this challenge.

There are plenty of repair classes available for technicians. With the Internet, there is probably more training available than ever.

The problem is much of the training costs money and it takes time.

Who pays for training?

A lot of shop owners say it’s up to the technicians to get the training they need. The technicians, for their part, think the shops should cover the expenses for their training.

So, instead of technicians getting the training they need, the technicians are arguing with the shop owners over who should pay for it.

Here in the Cleveland area, one of the major automotive parts stores sponsors training seminars regularly. While the store has well over 100 repair shop customers, less than 30 technicians show up for the training.

Are the automobile manufacturers doing everything they can to address this problem? I’m not really in a position to answer this question. But the manufacturers are the ones who have created the complexities that the aftermarket has to deal with. Look at all the special tools that a technician needs today to do the repairs on all the different vehicles!

When I started out myself as a technician before I became a distributor, it wasn’t unusual for the sons of technicians to follow their parents into the field. Today, many young people aren’t willing to do this kind of work for the pay it provides.

This is probably the biggest reason there aren’t as many repair shops as there once were.

Would I do it all again?

When I ask myself if I had it to do over, the answer is, “it depends.” If I were to get into the business the way it was when I started 30 years ago, the answer is “yes.” But for a newcomer today, the situation is much different.

The start-up cost is three times higher today.

A mobile distributor who is a good business manager and a good salesperson can still make a good living.

But the industry has to find a way to make sure today’s technicians get the training they need.

 

Glenn Hayashi is a Snap-on distributor based in Willowick, Ohio, near Cleveland. He has been a distributor for 30 years.

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