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December 2017
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I don’t understand how hard it is to hire a technician!
John Walker
John Walker

I have been consulting with equipment dealers about their aftermarket or their product support sales and profit for 40+ years. You can’t imagine over the years how many times I’ve been told: “I don’t understand how difficult it is to hire technicians!” I ask myself are these Doubting Thomas’ all right or are they wrong? But I will continue working at assisting equipment dealers to do just that and that is for them to seek out and hire more technicians.

Bob Currie in developing his Dealer Cost of Doing Business Studies states that in the next three to five years 50% of the equipment dealer’s work force will be technicians. The successful dealers recognized this years ago. I regularly communicate with one successful dealer who has over 300 technicians and this year’s business plan calls for the hiring of a minimum of 30 more. The dealership has three HR personnel who spend the bulk of their time hiring technicians . . . this dealer works at hiring technicians and the dealership’s hard work has truly paid off.

My comments to equipment dealerships who tell me how hard it is to hire technicians is to impress upon them while it is hard work to hire technicians, service is also where the dealership’s unrecognized opportunity lies. I want to point out that if they recognize that hiring professionals, and today specifically technicians, then the dealership has to focus upon the task, develop a specific plan and then get the job done.

It seems that every day when working with dealers, attempting to encourage them to focus more and more upon marketing the service repair end of their business I receive the same frustrating reply mentioned above; but from others I get the reply: I know you’re right, but I just haven’t been able to get around to it. 

Consider how much time, effort and money you spend trying to find a half way decent sales manager or even a salesperson. You’ll hire a head-hunter, you’ll fly people halfway across the country to interview, and no amount of effort will be spared. But the only thing that makes you think about hiring a technician is when your shop is overflowing with backed-up service work. Then it becomes a get-it-done task to find a warm body.

Have any of you considered the hiring of what some people call a head-hunter? I can see the look on many dealers’ faces when they read this comment. The dealer rolls his eyes and asks another question: “Do you know what you have to pay to recruit with a head-hunter? Take a look at your unrecognized opportunities to be found in your service department before you answer that question.

We have a client in a major market center that will attend every trade fair and occupies a booth set up strictly to hire technicians. The dealer mans the booth with four people, his service manager and his HR person and during the dealer principal makes an appearance. Together this staff lays out for potential candidates all of the features, advantages and benefits the candidates would experience in coming to work for the dealership.

Hire A Vet! “The troops are coming home!” “The size of our military is being reduced!” “A lot of veterans are going to be out there looking for jobs!”

Several weeks ago I was talking with a service manager friend of mine who I knew was hiring technicians from the military pool. Over the years he has hired nine technicians who have come out of the military and just this week he hired a Navy person with a technical background and was bringing him to Texas. I asked him how he convinced a guy on the east coast to relocate to Texas. He told me that most military personnel know that Texas is friendly to the military and the guy wanted to come to Texas.

It is a seller’s market for experienced service technicians. The law of supply versus demand has kicked in and as we mentioned many times, the demand for technicians far out paces the supply. Maybe, just maybe that is the miracle all of you who constantly state how difficult it is to find a technician have been waiting for.

It’s payback time, ladies and gentlemen! I discovered long ago how much it meant to have a job offered when I was released from the service. I am a Veteran. I was drafted. I wasn’t a volunteer like all of these great people are today.

Most equipment dealers have cycles in their business when business slows down, and most business cycles follow a pattern. When business is slow we are told to cut back on expenses and personnel. This of course makes sense, but where do we cut? Maybe we can lay off a few technicians, even though we know it will be hard to hire them back after the market turns around. Maybe we lay off a new hire, our aftermarket sales person. Funny most of the successful dealers believe just the opposite. They send somebody out there to market their shop, to bring the equipment in for repair.

When a dealer tells us he does not have enough service business right now to hire a technician, we tell him to look at his Service Contribution to Total Sales. Most dealers, except the professionals run single digits. This is a clear indication that they are missing the greatest sales opportunity available to their dealership. We tell them to get out there, become proactive and fill up the shop. Again their comeback, “we can’t find technicians!”

If we continue to sit around waiting for some miracle to happen, you can be sure that little will change. I know a corporate service manager who has six service managers. Each one has been assigned a trade school within their area. Each one spends a day a month visiting the schools and recruiting. They are not sitting around in their offices waiting for a prospect to walk through the door.

The sub-title of this month’s article is: Hire a Vet! Maybe, just maybe that is the miracle all of you who constantly state how difficult it is to find a technician have been waiting for. It’s payback time, ladies and gentlemen! These men and women fought for your freedom. I ask all of the equipment dealers I visit or talk with over the phone what their experience has been with hiring veterans. Yes, I hear a few sour grape stories, but that is bound to happen. I also hear a lot of great stories, like the guy who told me: “they don’t always have the work experience on our type of equipment, but they sure do have a great work-ethic and I’ll take work-ethic every time over experience!”

In almost all the ads we see one line that we believe dealers should question and drop: “Applicant must have ____ years of experience working on __________ equipment.” Doesn’t this severely limit the pool of technicians you will be interviewing? 

Most manufacturers today are providing excellent hands-on training for technicians. If professionals have the knowledge of the basics: finding information, pre-delivery, planned maintenance, electronics, hydraulics, system trouble-shooting, diagnosis, computer knowledge, up-selling, etc., then they can quickly learn all that is necessary to work on the equipment that your dealership sells.

Yes, sending technicians off to a factory-training course located in some far off city for a week can be expensive i.e., transportation, lodging and meals, not to mention the lost job time for the individual and the service department. All of these arguments against training only make sense as long as the dealership perceives this training as an expense and not as an investment.

In any successful equipment dealership it is the dealership’s investment in people that pays off! Professionals never stop their educational process. Technicians welcome every opportunity for more training and become frustrated when dealers block their efforts and their thirst for learning more about the profession that they have chosen. An investment is not an expense. In today’s fast moving market place the dealer who does not invest in personnel is going to be left behind.

Computer training, understanding and knowledge are a must for professional service technicians. Working on any piece of equipment today is tied into a computer and the technicians’ ability to diagnose the problem via the black-box.

Manufacturers are going to continue at an accelerated rate to produce more and more sophisticated equipment. The dealership’s professional sales force will sell this equipment with all of its bells and whistles. This equipment, despite the manufacturer’s or the sales person’s claims will at some point fail under operation. If at that point the dealer has failed to invest in the dealership’s technicians, then possibly the equipment is going to sit idle waiting for someone to repair whatever caused the repair problem?

At this time we can think of no other position within the typical equipment dealership that is as important as the qualified, professional service technician. The position is important for two primary reasons: 1) It has and it can continue to provide the dealership significant cash flow and exceptional profitability, and 2) the position develops strong customer loyalty and keeps the customer coming back for more of the dealership’s products and service.

Develop a cultural change in your dealership. Look at hiring, training, compensation/motivation and maintenance of a quality and professional group of service technicians as an investment in the growth and profitability of your business. It should be an expense only on your financial statement!

Look at your hiring practices. Do you put the same effort into hiring technicians as you do sales personnel? How do your recruiting ads look? Do you sell the features, advantages and benefits of working for your dealership?

Have you studied your recruiting procedures? Does the candidate only meet with the service manager? Do you stress that your dealership is offering a career opportunity? Does the candidate walk away with the understanding that your dealership is offering much more than just a job? Have you considered a pay for performance program for technicians, a pay program that rewards quality work to the professional service technician?

Do you indicate that your dealership offers opportunity for advancement through technician training?

Yes, hiring, training and maintaining quality, professional service technicians is hard work. Ann Landers is quoted as saying: “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them!”

John R. Walker is president of Aftermarket Services Consulting Co. Inc. E-mail to contact John.