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Three Ways to Find and Retain Quality Employees

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Employee retention is a large problem—not just for MSOs, but for the entire collision repair industry, says Steve Trapp, North American Services Manager for Axalta.

The United States Department of Labor reports the national turnover rate at 3.5 percent. According a study conducted by the Collision Repair Education Foundation and I-CAR in 2013, the turnover rate for the collision repair industry is much higher at 13.9 percent. Broken down, that 13.9 percent means that approximately one out of every seven technicians will leave his or her job. Of those, 6.3 percent will leave the industry all together.

Now, compare that to the 4.8 percent entering the trade, and this is cause for considerable concern.

Trapp is working to solve this problem with others in the industry, including Mike Anderson of, Scott Peirce at 3M, Lincoln Welder, and Car-O-Liner.  The way Trapp looks at it, there are three things that can be done to attract new recruits and retain existing employees: create a step-by-step path for prospective employees to follow; facilitate a positive experience for workers; and recruit new employees by spreading a positive message about the industry to those entering the workforce.

Step 1: Create a Path

For those entering or thinking of entering the collision repair industry, there is a lack of a clear career path, says Trapp. One of his main goals in his mission for lower turnover rate and higher employee retention is to create a training/development path for the industry, which he is currently pursuing with 3M.

“Let’s just say there are seven levels to this plan,” he says. “Level 1, you just showed up and have little to no skill. Level 7 is someone who can paint ghost flames on a motorcycle gas tank like an artist. Not every shop needs a Level 7, but they probably are in need of a 5 or 6. What we are doing is creating a career path so those coming into the industry can see what needs to be done to become a production painter and earn the money that they earn.”

The development/training path that Trapp describes starts with an outline of the courses and skills needed for each level, as well as a clear step-by-step process to reach various professional levels. By providing an exact number of classes that need to be taken, prospective employees will be more motivated to get involved with the industry.

“Shops need to stop asking for sanders,” Trapp says. “They need to worry about career development, or millennials will become frustrated.”  

It’s more than just taking the classes though. Skills need to be demonstrated.

“I took the I-CAR class and passed it. I’m a pretty smart guy, but you wouldn’t want me working on your car.I don’t have the skills or experience. You need to work on that skill and show that you can do it,” he explains.

After the necessary classes are completed, the next step is for shops to verify them. A student who is certified as a Level 4 may only be deemed a Level 2 based on his or her skill development. Trapp says that his plan will have journeymen from shops oversee repairs and then will assign a skill level based on what they see.

“There’s a process,” he says. “Young people want to move up quickly. The class alone will not do it. You have to do repairs. If you have the right shop, they’ll foster you and give you the opportunity.”

Step 2: Leadership Coaching

Trapp says retention is tied to development and leadership.

“You have to actually give them feedback,” he says. “A lot of managers do not do that.”

As an example of leadership coaching, he says a manager can ask at the beginning of a shift what a technician plans on doing that morning and then check back in with them at lunch time. Managers should also encourage collaboration and share tips.

“If someone is working on a headlight, a manager should be able to say, ‘Bill just worked on one. Why don’t you get some tips?’” Trapp says. “There just isn’t that level of coaching. They break something and get yelled at and then they get fired. There’s a lack of day-to-day supervision. Good leadership is creating a culture that says, ‘I’m there for you.’”

By creating a positive culture that encourages development, Trapp believes that the turnover rate will decrease.

Step 3: Attract New Recruits

It’s not enough to keep current employees. It’s important to think to the future. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2015 that only 7 million students would attend a two-year institute compared to 13.2 million who would enroll in a four-year program.

“We have to attract new people into the trade once we’ve fixed people from leaving,” Trapp says. “We have to fix both sides of this.”

Those who think that the collision industry is dying out because of autonomous cars are misinformed, according to Trapp. There will always be collision work, whether it’s from hail, limbs falling onto parked cars, or other acts beyond control. Also, he notes, there are no accident avoidance systems that are foul-proof. The collision industry is still a solid career option and it’s time everyone knew it.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that employment for automotive body and glass repairers will grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than the average for most occupations, making the collision industry a solid career path for students to take after graduation.

To get this point across, Trapp and his partners are looking to create a public service announcement that will teach people the value of the industry and plan on putting it in every tech school and in the hands of every guidance counselor possible.

“The fact that we would have an education matrix will help with this and let guidance counselors manage students properly,” Trapp says.

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