Over the past ten/fifteen years I have not been into one equipment dealership (farm, construction, outdoor power, industrial or lift truck) that hasn’t had a sign posted on the parts counter, a banner across the front window or a sign in the yard expressing the need for technicians. I haven’t had one dealer conversation where a dealer didn’t tell me how difficult it is today to find qualified technicians.
Sounding like “chicken-little” claiming the sky is falling, manufacturers, associations and dealers have a serious problem! Today there is a shortage of well over 200,000 off-road and on-road technicians. As reported, the average age of technicians has increased to 62. That number alone should indicate just how serious the problem will be in another four to five years from now.
It is a political year and all candidates, as well as the president, are pushing education and in particular, higher education for everyone. It seems as if no one can live the American Dream unless they have a college education or even higher. No one running
Today in North America, unemployment is indeed a problem. Who knows the positive effect that the equipment industry could have upon this problem if more recognition to the problem of hiring qualified technicians was being addressed on a national level. In Montana, South and North Dakota technicians are bringing down as much as $70.00 per hour and jobs are going unfilled because of a lack of entry level technicians.
Manufacturers (there are exceptions) seem to pay little attention to the problem. Too many manufacturers view the dealer’s service department as an expense and not as a profit center. There is a tendency to forget that if dealers don’t have a sufficient staff of qualified, well-trained technicians, there will be a problem satisfying the dealer’s set-up problems, and the manufacturer’s warranty problems. It also will seriously affect the dealers’ cash flow and overall profitability. In the long run, this will erode the dealers’ and the manufacturers’ market share dramatically.
Manufacturers must recognize that past the warranty period, if the dealers do not have these qualified technicians, their service sales will erode, their profits from their major profit center will erode and customers will be extremely dissatisfied. Also, customer satisfaction with the equipment, the dealer and the manufacturer will drop-off significantly. This is what we refer to as a reverse “self-feeding-profit spiral.”
Manufacturers today are building better products, very high tech products. These are products that take special tooling and advanced training. Qualified, certified, highly skilled technicians are required for the job of maintaining this equipment. There is indeed a tremendous shortage of trained technicians to maintain and keep this sophisticated equipment operating!
These high tech products were manufactured not only to build a better product, but also to protect the dealership’s aftermarket business. We believe that this makes good sense. The manufacturer (in most cases) offers excellent service training to their dealers and service personnel on how to work on this sophisticated equipment.
Two of the problems, however, are that the dealer: 1) does not have a sufficient amount of trained technicians to send to the manufacturer’s training facilities and/or, 2) is “penny-wise and pound-foolish” about paying to send technicians off for training.
E-Learning, CDs and in-house training certainly can be effective in this area. However, too many times we see these education tools sitting in the dealership simply gathering dust and not being put to use.
Equipment dealerships are certainly not without fault. It is hard to count the number of times we have heard a dealer say: “You don’t know how difficult it is to hire technicians!” Believe me, we do! We also recognize that a typical equipment dealer’s greatest opportunity for increased profitability lies within the dealership’s service department. The dealer’s service department can and should have five times the positive financial impact upon the dealership, versus the impact of new equipment sales. Therefore, rather than frustrating yourself over how difficult it is to find technicians, focus upon the profitable opportunity the dealership has and put some effort into hiring, training and maintaining quality technicians. Quality technicians can be the most important hires the dealership will ever make.
A sign on the parts counter, a banner on the outside of your facility, a small, inexpensive (cheap) ad in your local paper will bring you little more than your competitor’s technicians who are looking for another $1.25 to $1.50 an hour and who will leave you the next time someone offers them another small raise.
Put some imagination into your hiring and think outside the box! Money is not normally the #1 motivator for qualified personnel changing jobs. We know a dealer in a major metropolitan area who has no problem hiring and maintaining a qualified staff of technicians. This dealer pays a slightly higher hourly wage than his competitors, has a superior benefit program and offers technicians all the additional training they can handle. He is also proud of the fact that he has the highest labor rate in the area, because he supplies the best service in the market.
Think outside the box! Advertise the features, advantages and benefits of working for your company. Look at the living advantages in your location. Advertise outside your territory. Just maybe you will find a quality technician who lives in the cold and frigid north that would really like to move south. Many technicians enjoy hunting and fishing. If you are in an area where great hunting and fishing abounds, let your prospective applicants know that is one great benefit you have to offer. Promise them days off during deer season, or the first two days of the trout season. Spend as much time and effort hiring technicians as you would to hire a top-notch sales person. If you know the numbers, you also know that your return on your investment will be greater with the technician.
No, it is not easy! If you want quality personnel and technicians in particular, you must work at it!
If you have a Tech or Vocational School within your area, or a Community College visit them, see what they have to offer, get involved and get your manufacturers involved. If you don’t get involved then you will lose out on the opportunity to take advantage of the offered opportunities of these training facilities. One important fact is that most all of the students coming out of these programs have jobs when they graduate. Some of the key manufacturers in the equipment industry have programs going on to provide their dealers with qualified and professional technicians. Did the dealers have a financial interest in the students? Sure they did, but it was in most cases minimal. Most of the trade schools we talk with prefer students who are dedicated enough to handle most of their own tuition. It is also not uncommon for a sponsoring dealer to provide summer work in the dealership.
Right now an area of prospects might be the military. There are cut-backs in the military and in some specific areas this will offer dealers qualified and quality personnel. Someone who has spent time avoiding unscheduled downtime on a military tank, serviced both in the field and in a motor pool should find little problem working on a crawler, a tractor or even a lift truck. Give a veteran an opportunity!
Another area of consideration for finding potential candidates might be the State Prison Authority. (Don’t be a negative thinker.) Many state prisons are developing technical training programs for their inmates.
Now how about Trade Associations, local, regional and national? Many industry associations have recognized this as a North American problem and are gearing up to assist many of their dealers in their membership to provide access to service technicians. We strongly recommend that all equipment dealers work with and back their trade associations in this endeavor.
Readers and human relations managers, the problem is not going to go away anytime soon! Manufacturers, dealers and associations need to work together to alleviate the problem. If manufacturers don’t, then they may have the best product on the market with nobody to service that product. Dealers, if you don’t focus upon the problem, you will find a decline in sales and profitability in the greatest area of profitability within your dealership. Associations, your survival is dependent upon the survival and strength of your membership.
HR managers and dealers, if this article has been of interest to you and you would like us to send you our monthly special: TECHNICIANS, Field & Shop, finding, hiring, acclimating, retaining and compensating, then email us at email@example.com and we will email you the manual. You will be invoiced $16.99, you will only need to pay the invoice if you are completely satisfied with the product. Please let us know your dealership’s name and address as well as your email address and line of products.
“The optimist sees opportunity in every danger; the pessimist sees danger in every opportunity!” Winston Churchill
John R. Walker is president of Aftermarket Services Consulting Co. Inc. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to contact John.