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Cropper: Recruiting Outside the Box

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These days, as most auto body shop owners know, trying to recruit techs to the industry is a major headache. Many business owners have chosen to go without or try to recruit talent from competing shops, but the real key to ending the tech shortage is for every shop to have processes in place to train new blood into the industry. And that goes hand-in-hand with recruiting them, because right now you can have the best recruitment program, but it’s about finding the right techs. In auto body our biggest obstacle is to get young talent in, and then get them to the point where they become, for lack of a better term, journeymen techs, estimators, etc.

It’s so important for owners and businesses to invest in being able to train someone new coming into the industry, so although we still pay our journeyman techs more, new techs still get paid a decent wage, and they should continue to see their wages grow as their skill set progresses. I’ve found that this process works well, but as an industry we’re at the point where we’ve got to put our foot on the throttle in this area. I don’t have exact stats to put with this, but I know there are areas of the country where there’s still a crazy amount of work for body shops, yet the focus is still weighed too far in the direction of trying to poach talent. 

I’ve heard that many shops have had a fair amount of success recruiting military veterans who have an automotive background. To that point, just the other day I had a guy who was working on my boat, and he seemed very handy, and I said to him, “Have you ever thought about fixing cars?” Basically my argument to him was that if you can fix a boat, why can’t you fix a car? Utilizing people who can be cross-trained from other industries (electrical, audio/stereo etc.) can be an effective approach to take when recruiting techs.

I don’t believe everyone should attend a traditional four-year college. If you didn’t perform well in high school or didn’t enjoy it and your career path doesn’t necessarily require a college degree, and you’re good with your hands or have a knack for working on cars, I’m a firm believer that those are the recruits we should covet the most. 

My oldest son is a senior in high school and is applying to colleges. He’s a very scholastic kid and a traditional college is definitely his path. So as we’re touring these colleges, they take you around campus and show you around, and at the end you find out how much the school costs to attend per year. We were on a tour of schools on the East Coast at one point, and after visiting each school I’d jot down how much it would cost to attend that college prior to receiving any student aid, etc., and I’d simply google what the average income for a graduate of that school is. Time and time again, the results were shocking. Google commonly shows you what an average graduate of a particular school makes 10 years after graduation, and I’d put 80 percent of our staff’s paychecks against what most of these four-year graduates make a decade into their career.  

Another benefit not often shown to young recruits is the benefits of one trade over another. One of my closest friends owns an electrical contracting company, so his staff travels to different areas in Alaska to complete contract jobs. Oftentimes these guys are working in the winter in buildings that have no heat, they’re freezing their butts off completing electrical work on installing lights on the outside of a building. And you think of the stigma the body shop industry has of dirty hand and dirty shops, the reality is that as a tech you’ll be working in a nice, warm shop making the same (or more) amount of money, that’s well lit and has all the equipment you need, and you can work all day in a t-shirt and pants. Or if you want to work road construction and you’re in a hotter climate down South. Do you want to be outside in Arizona working in 115-degree weather, or fixing cars inside at 70 degrees? 

But they’ll never know this unless we can actually get these kids in our shops, and instead of recruiting against other body shops, show these recruits  what it’s like to be in a modern shop, and as an industry we don’t do a very good job of that. I know I’ve shifted my focus from trying to poach employees from other shops, to figuring out how we can attract fresh talent. We’re even toying with incentivising our staff to be big promoters of us, and maybe that incentive increases if they’re able to grab someone from outside the industry. If your marketing budget is being used to trying to attract workers from a shop down the road, why aren’t you spending just as much trying to recruit someone new into the industry?  


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