George Arrants, vice president of ASE's Education Foundation, says there are more qualified technicians out there than you think.
He answered questions during a one-hour Trucks, Parts, Service webinar sponsored by Fullbay on Wednesday.
"I don't have all the answers," Arrants says at the outset, but he would task the people watching to ask the tough questions. "In your organization, what is your shortage? What is the technician shortage or employee shortage in your organization? That's really what you should be focusing on."
Arrants says there are plenty of students out there, but they may not be exactly where you're looking. He says that ASE surveys show nearly 18% of students taking auto technician courses in high school want to work on diesel trucks or heavy equipment, but it's not offered, so they go to the next best thing.
[Did you miss our webinar? You can watch it here]
"The pond is bigger than you think," Arrants says, you just have to be willing to reach out to programs and offer support to those students. And don't wait until the school's career fair. Get involved early in the year and let students and instructors know about your brand, your shop and your culture.
"You could also look at some internships, work-based learning or apprenticeships," he says. "Do not be the employer that calls in the instructor in March and says, 'Hey, I need your two best students.' Those students are gone."
Arrants also encouraged shop owners to get involved with and support their local technician training programs. He says the ASE Education Foundation offers resources to connect programs and shops, as well as solutions for internal training, technical aptitude tests and more. Connecting with programs gives shops better access to students and also helps guarantee those students graduate with the skills needed for success in your shop.
"You as a business and industry know what you need as an entry-level tech," Arrants says. "We [ASE Education Foundation] can help you with our field managers find schools in your community to get involved with. You need to be telling them what they need to be spending your money on. Don't allow them to continue to think they know what you need."
Shops also need to know their current employees to be able to better recruit their future ones. Arrants points out that it's a misconception that employees leave for more money. They start looking for another reason, and just happen to find more money while they're perusing the want ads.
He suggests shop owners really get to know their employees, their children, their hobbies, their dog's name. Bring in lunch or hand out gift cards to show your appreciation for the work they do for you.
"You're never looking for a cookie, but it sure does taste good when you get one," Arrants says.
Your shop should also have a culture that new employees would want to be a part of.
"These young people are looking for something in their place of business," he says. "They need to feel like they're part of something. This generation works to live, and maybe they got it right."
Arrants suggests regular — even quarterly — meetings with employees to take their temperature. Set up mentorship programs that pair new employees with seasoned ones. And conduct exit interviews to find out why your employees are jumping ship.
"Whenever someone leaves your organization, they're saying the unknown is better than you," he points out. "It's time to look in the mirror. If you can't see your children or your grandchildren working in your facility, neither can I."
And just saying you're doing these things isn't enough. Arrants says these steps need to be done properly and well for your business to see the results. This could be through HR, through meeting with your employees or through setting different policies.
"Before you have to deal with an exit survey, know your employees," Arrants says. "Or know more about them and stop the bleeding."
Arrants also says shops need to be more open-minded when it comes to recruiting women and minorities. He says everyone should have an opportunity to work in your place of business. Often, it's not that they want special treatment, but just the same treatment as everyone else. Is there a bathroom for your female employees? Is it clean? Are you open to letting employees take off on their religious or cultural holidays that don't match your own?
"Our schools are filled with a high percentage of those people," Arrants says. "We see the percentage of them growing. What we don't see is an increase in them entering our industry or staying in our industry. We think they'll be disruptive, but they're not."
Again, getting involved with the educational programs in your area can help bridge those gaps and fill the open positions in your organizations. Making a strong connection with the administrators and instructors there will ensure you have a pipeline of employees that will continue to grow your business. ASE is ready to help, Arrants says.
"We have a national concern with a local solution," he says.