Lead new industry recruits up the mountain

May 3, 2019
We need to create career paths and rework our industry to attract young talent.

Over the last several years I’ve written on many topics related to the technician shortage. We’ve discussed ideas focused on solving that issue, and have illustrated some successes in the field that should encourage you all to believe there is a solution long term. Part of our discussion has been focused on finding the right people that fit our industry; the tactile learner or the youngster who took things apart and put them back together again like we did when we were young. The person who is inquisitive by nature. Some have sought the new generation of young hot rodders who are modifying their Asian and European sports cars producing results that are simply amazing. Others have looked to upgrade the existing vocational education programs in their area in hopes of attracting more young talent to our bays. If you visit the large for-profit institutions, you’ll see race cars everywhere in an attempt to entice youngsters with the allure of motorsports and perhaps the dream of working for a professional team. All of these efforts are worthy and have varying levels of success, but I question if we are looking at the problem through the correct lens.

As I’ve written many times, I’m influenced by the British-American leadership author, Simon Sinek. Two years ago, I heard a profound statement from him that has changed the way I think about our industry and young people in general. He said that the youth of our world that we typically see as lazy, uninspired, lacking direction, un-committed etc., really know what they want in life. It’s as if they are standing at the base of a mountain and can see their dreams and goals at the top of the mountain. However, they can’t see the mountain. When I heard Sinek say this, it was like a sledge hammer had hit me up the side of my head. Society and technology have enabled our youth to get what they want when they want it to the point if they don’t get it instantly or in the time that is acceptable to them, they go another direction.

I immediately thought the answer is simple; we need to describe the way up the mountain! Surely then, as they take the path we describe and enable them to pursue, they’ll find their dream. Or, perhaps they’ll find a scenic overlook on the way up the mountain that excites them even more than their original dream and they’ll pursue that path. No matter, this had to be the answer to the question of how do we attract young talent to our industry. But is it? I still believe it is a key element to what we as an industry must do by defining the career paths for those entering our industry and for those in our industry currently. It is foundational, it is essential, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. My goal in this discussion is to make us consider for a minute that maybe we are describing the way up the wrong mountain.

I think we all agree the type of talent we need to attract are those that have a desire to solve problems and work in a high-tech industry. With the unstoppable onslaught of technology coming into our bays, we need technicians who have an insatiable thirst for understanding, analyzing and solving problems with these technologies. I have news for you all; those kids aren’t entering our industry because we don’t look like that. Sure, we see ourselves as high-tech and try to put our best foot forward with facilities and benefits and working conditions to attract the best, but at the end of the day our industry is selling something the talent doesn’t want. We are selling the wrong mountain!

It is becoming more apparent that we, the automotive service industry, must remodel ourselves in a way that attracts talent to our doors and create a destination that is not what we have today. It must be different with respect to the barrier of entry; it must be different in the way of benefits; it must be different in the way of career pathways, and it must offer the same flexibility in time and life that the other industries that we are competing with offer. We must stand out. We must make our future workers learn about us and go WOW!

We must learn to treat them as technologists, not grease monkeys. And the same goes for the sales and management staff. We are working on highly sophisticated extreme engineering marvels that cost more than the first two houses I owned. Yet we continue to sell on price. Require our technicians to own their own tools and pay them based on flat rate. We put them in a dark hot box and give them a drop light and expect them to be perfect and fast. We expect our techs to work as techs and to never grow in their career. Sure, we train them enough to enable them to repair the next car in the bay, but we don’t ask them what their life goals are and determine if they might want to own their own shop someday. We don’t ask what’s important to them. We offer discounted services to attract new customers and we expect the production team to build the work along with producing the work. And at the end of the day we all look exactly alike and look exactly like our industry did 40 years ago.

So, it seems to me that we as an industry need to totally rethink how we attract young talent. First of all, we need to recognize that we are not going to change all young people and the way they think or the dreams they have. Second, we are not going to change the technology coming into our bays. Third, we are not going to stop these groups of young adults that we struggle to attract from becoming customers (they are already) or business owners (they are already). Fourth, if we don’t start changing today, our industry dies. A stark statement? Yes, but to attract talent we need to transform ourselves into an industry that is attractive.

Finally think about how you position your business as a technology company that is focused on mobile sources. What are your entry requirements? Do you require a degree? Do you assist in getting that degree? Do you provide all tools and equipment? Or better yet, do you have a facility that looks like a technology center rather than a poorly lit dungeon. Do you have a defined career path for your team that places them on a road of growth and encouragement? Do you offer benefits and flexible work hours that meet their needs and goals? Maybe that is as simple as assisting with child care or offering flexible work hours.

Do you have a workflow that is well documented and includes a standardized set of tools, equipment and process? Do you onboard your new staff? Does your business look like the rest of today’s industry? Think about what I’ve started here. Please don’t take it personally, but consider its importance. What we are selling the youth of today isn’t attractive. We need a serious makeover and this article was intended to start that discussion. It’s time to look at other mountains for inspiration.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Vehicle Service Pros, create an account today!