When we look to the future of our industry, one of the key challenges that continuously come up is the challenge of staffing. Whether it is a lack of technicians, or recruiting and retaining good talent, the question remains: are we truly experiencing a technician shortage?
The answer isn't so straightforward. There may be indeed an overall shortage in certain market areas, but I challenge the belief that we are at the mercy of one’s interest in pursuing a career in collision repair. It is not enough to accept that there is a technician shortage and that there is nothing we can do about it. Instead, let’s start to ask a different question: what are we doing differently? How can we create an environment where people would want to work in our store, a petri dish, if you will, for growth?
In the long run, this is the only way that any of us will be able to sustain and grow our businesses. So, instead of accepting an alleged technician shortage, let’s ask ourselves what our solutions to staffing today, tomorrow, and 10 years from now will be. It’s time to challenge convention and accept responsibility for our own futures.
As shop owners, creating this kind of environment is up to us. We can start by looking for ways to make our businesses more appealing to technicians by providing competitive salaries and benefits, offering flexible hours, and creating a culture that people want to be a part of. The key here is simply embracing change and the opportunities that change brings. To continually prosper in the collision repair industry today, we have to get GREAT at embracing change. Any level of prehistoric thinking will ultimately leave you extinct.
Beat the streets:
Since 2018, I have worked very closely with several of the local technical schools at both high school and college levels. Among those programs, I found one alarming consistency. The number-one most common trait was an abundance of program funding. There is money coming from all directions: through state grants, our jobbers, vendor donations, etc., followed closely by classrooms filled with students and exhausted instructors. As I began to peel back the onion, I noticed that although the rooms were full and the classes were adequately funded, engagement was very low. Further research uncovered that the educational administration teams were being incentivized to merely keep the classrooms full. Therefore, they were doing just that and assigning students to these programs as mandated electives when they have little to no interest in our field. The instructors struggled getting the students' buy-in, handicapping the program's ability to teach state-provided curriculum, and in turn providing no qualified students at the end of the school year, only to circle back the following year and look for ways to spend the incoming funds again. To me, it was an obvious vicious cycle. Since then, we have provided the instructors with our apprenticeship program and work very closely with the ground-level staffing to ensure the curriculum meets state requirements. It is specifically taught under the currency of what we are seeing today in our stores, and the programs are now producing some of the most loyal team members we have today.
This realization led us to question our traditional methods of recruiting and training technicians. Instead of relying solely on who applied to our hiring ads, we have investigated alternative options such as partnering with local community colleges or even creating our own in-house training programs. By taking a hands-on approach and being actively involved in the education process, we can shape the curriculum and develop a pipeline of skilled technicians for our businesses.
Let's challenge the status quo and embrace innovative hiring practices to build a strong and sustainable future for our industry. Together, we can overcome any staffing challenges and continue to thrive in the collision repair world. The power is in our hands, so let's use it to shape a better tomorrow for all of us, technicians included.