The growing importance of technician career development

March 8, 2021
In establishing a career development plan, it helps both management and technicians align on a baseline of where techs are currently at in their careers, where they want to go with their careers, and how they’re going to get there.
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Technicians of all ages are looking to expand conversations around career development with their employers. It could be that baby boomer who is a few years out from retirement and not sure his body is going to hold up until retirement, or that newly hired tech school graduate who is determined to start their ascension to the top of the shop. (I think you’d actually be surprised by the amount of tech school students that want to open their own shop someday).

The desire for these career development conversations stems from a basic human need of people wanting to know what their future holds for them. While working through a career development plan with them doesn’t necessarily answer all of those questions, it does help drive conversations with them about their careers. In establishing a career development plan, it helps both management and technicians align on a baseline of where techs are currently at in their careers, where they want to go with their careers, and how they’re going to get there.

In February, we held our monthly WrenchWay Roundtable on Why Shops Need to Focus on Technician Career Development. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it, I would highly recommend checking it out because the insights shared from our amazing panel of thought leaders in the industry were incredible. We touched on everything from why a career plan is important, to what a good career development plan looks like, to what it looked like through the view of a technician.

Many of the ideas shared during the roundtable were practical and usable for a shop of any size. So, while sometimes creating a career development program may seem overwhelming, it can actually be pretty easy. The hardest part, in my mind, is getting started.

How to Get Started Creating a Career Development Program for Technicians 

Start the Conversation with Technicians.

The easiest way to get started is to have conversations with the individual technicians themselves. Talk to them about their career aspirations and goals. Where do they aspire to be in five years, 10 years, etc. One of the panelists on our roundtable, Jim Bennett of ATI, recommends listening to their personal goals as well, and I couldn’t agree more. 

Assess Skill Sets.

From there, discuss their skill set. Does their current skill set allow for them to grow into a role they desire?  Do you have their aspired role available in your shop? If not, be sure to share your vision with them. Are you wanting to grow your business to the point where that position does become available? If so, there’s a great deal of power in sharing that vision with the tech. Let them help you get there! 

Determine What’s Needed to Reach Their Goals. As a manager, you should do as much as you can to help techs accomplish their goals. In many cases, it’s pretty clear what a tech is going to need to do in order to hit their goals. Oftentimes. I think issues happen when we assume that the tech has everything needed to attain those goals. 

For example, if they have a goal to improve their efficiency by 10% over the next 12 months, it’s pretty easy math to break down what that means. Same goes for billable labor hours and pretty much anything else that has a tangible number attached to it.

Once you determine what is needed to reach their goals, work with them to break those goals down to bite sized pieces. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by a big goal, but if you’re able to dissect what that means each day, week, or month, it makes it much easier to digest.

I feel like this is the point where you can really start to identify things that person needs to achieve their goal. Maybe they need training to see a bump in their efficiency, or maybe they need a tool that the shop hasn’t provided them yet. Get the tech comfortable with candidly discussing what it is that they need. 

Tell Technicians What They Get When They Reach Milestones.

Of course, a huge part of setting goals is knowing what you get when you hit them. Each milestone should be celebrated because technicians worked hard for it. Nothing feels worse than when you hit a big target, and nobody talks about it. The technician feels good about it and so should you. 

Even if the milestone doesn’t involve a title change or pay raise, little celebrations can go a long way! Offering to buy the tech lunch because they did something great is always a good celebration in my book. Getting to talk shop, and the success in the shop, over a good meal can be a lot of fun! You may also want to look at giving them an afternoon off to spend with their family, or take them out for a day karting at the local track. Celebrating the wins can be hard in the environment we’re in when everything is moving at warp speed. Just don’t take your eye off the ball because you may be accomplishing some pretty cool things. 

Keep the Conversations Going.

In my mind, one of the hardest things to do is to keep the momentum up.  Celebrating a win can seem redundant if techs are consistently hitting their targets. 

Even so, it’s important to keep going. Keep celebrating victories as you’re more than likely going to have discussions that aren’t as fun as the ones you have when you celebrate. This is the best time to do your coaching. Figuring out problems and discussing them as they happen are vitally important to the growth and success of the technician.

Regardless if you’re celebrating or coaching, the primary point I’m trying to make is that you need to clearly communicate in either scenario. Having a development plan helps you keep on point in those discussions. Stay with the plan, and keep communicating! 

The Hardest Part is Just Getting Started

Developing career development plans for technicians is going to look different at every shop and dealership. What I will say is that you shouldn’t get overwhelmed by it. Laying out a career development plan really doesn’t have to be all that complicated. The key is to get started, have good conversations, and understand what that individual in the shop aspires to be, and provide the resources to help them get there. That can mean the world for that technician and for the long term outlook of your business. 

About the Author

Jay Goninen | CEO

Jay Goninen is the co-founder and president of WrenchWay and the founder and president of Find A Wrench. Goninen started working in his family’s independent repair shop at the age of nine and has worked in the industry ever since. He started his professional career as a technician and then moved into management roles within the automotive and diesel industries. Goninen is the host of the Beyond the Wrench podcast and the WrenchWay Weekly YouTube show.

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