Dealer Newsmaker Q&A Mitch Kudler

April 29, 2014
Mitch Kudler was one of the first managers to hire technicians via Audi's Veterans to Technicians program, and currently has four military veterans on his staff with plans to hire more.

Mitch Kudler is the fixed operations director at Royal Automotive Group in San Francisco. He was one of the first managers to hire technicians via Audi's Veterans to Technicians program, and currently has four military veterans on his staff with plans to hire more.

How did you get involved with the Veterans to Technicians program?

I've been with Audi for eight years, and I've always been one to hire from outside sources. I heard the program was launching, and I thought it would be a great avenue to find people who were a little older than what I saw coming out of the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) here. That's how I got interested.

Has matching the skillsets these technicians developed in the military with what is required at the dealership been challenging?

As far as mechanical skills, three of the guys I have now went from the military into UTI, so that has helped. We're looking for people with some experience working on jets, helicopters, that type of thing. They need to have some mechanical skill. That has to be evaluated. Just because they were in motor pool or doing mechanical work doesn't mean they actually know what they're doing.

How challenging is it to find technicians?

Finding technicians is always difficult, and finding qualified technicians is even more difficult. Finding ones that have an open mind and work hard is even more challenging. Not all techs are as efficient as others.

Have you adjusted compensation for the veterans coming, given that they tend to be older than the typical apprentice or UTI grad?

We start them in the apprenticeship program, which pays double minimum wage. It's tough to live in San Francisco on that, but they understand that there is a progression and their rate will go up.

The biggest challenge for us has been getting ownership involved. Hiring technicians at this level requires some future planning, and the dealer has to be open-minded. In the long run, this will pay off. I've talked to other dealers, and I have to convince the service manager of what the benefits are going to be in the long term. This is not a short-term win.

What are some of the biggest benefits or challenges with hiring veterans that may not have previous dealership experience?

Their attitudes are really good, they're honest and they are open to work in a new environment. On the negative side, since they're learning they aren't as productive at first. I have to send them to school to get their certifications. But if you combine that attitude with the skills they gain, in a few years the investment is worth it.

This type of program also stops us from taking technicians from another dealer. Because it's hard to find good technicians, one Audi store will steal a guy from me, I steal someone from another location, and all we wind up doing is raising our rates.

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