by Murray Voth
I currently have eight clients who are actively looking for a qualified technician or an apprentice who is willing to learn. Their shared comment is, “All the good technicians are already working.” And this is during a full pandemic lockdown.
One owner I spoke to recently was particularly flummoxed. He has a heated shop, he pays the best rates in the industry, he pays for uniforms and a boot allowance, he has a top-of-the-line group benefits plan, and he loves teaching apprentices. In fact, he loves teaching anyone who will listen. And yet, he is unable to attract qualified technicians who want to put in a good day’s work.
Driving around his shop’s neighbourhood this winter, he saw technicians working in unheated shops, bundled in multiple layers of clothes or insulated coveralls (or both). He saw technicians working in shops that still have dirt floors. He saw technicians working outside on trucks in minus-15 weather. He’s heard stories of unsafe working conditions, low pay, poor human resources practices, and more. Why are technicians tolerating these conditions, he wondered. Why won’t they respond to positions that are advertised?
I am hoping that some of those technicians will respond to this article and let us know why, so we can help them. While we wait for responses, here are some of my theories.
Problem: There is fear of change, and of the unknown. Their current job is the best one that they have known. It’s not great, but this boss yells just a little less than the last one, and they are making 50 cents more per hour.
Solution: Somehow, we need to write advertisements that will at least trigger these folks to make an initial inquiry.
Problem: They have the experience, but not the formal qualifications. Due to life circumstances or learning challenges, they have not written all of the exams, or passed all of them, or finished the level of schooling required to get a license and Red Seal designation. Many of them feel insecure in their skills and knowledge and take whatever job they can get; the last thing they want to do is jeopardize the current situation by exploring for others.
Solution: I know shop owners who have hired unlicensed technicians and helped them through the certification process – enrolling them in school, helping them to book the exams, or (in the case of recent immigrants) earn their Canadian license by writing the tests.
Another option is to enroll a promising employee in an apprenticeship program. It’s a great way to earn Canadian credentials while earning a good living in work they already have, in some cases, years of experience in.
British Columbia has just launched a fully funded 15-week training program to help techs with four to five years of experience get their Red Seal Certification.
Go to freetrainings.ca for more information.
Problem: They don’t know what they don’t know. They think that what they are experiencing is normal; they have no idea that there is something different or better out there.
Solution: This one is probably the hardest one to address. I’ve met shop owners and technicians who have told me that they would never encourage their children to enter this industry – how poorly it pays, how unprofitable it is, how dirty it is, how hard it is on your body, how ungrateful the vehicle owners are. It’s never going to change, they say with bitterness: this industry eats its young.
Actually, there is some merit to this attitude. This industry has been very challenging, and has fomented some poor business practices (mostly by owners who don’t know how to be profitable). But there is also a phenomenon called “learned helplessness”: hit a wall enough times and you’ll eventually give up. And in that giving up, you are completely unable to recognize when a wall is actually moved out of your way.
They may see an ad for a shop looking for a technician that offers all the great things I mentioned above, but their mind tells them that it is a lie, because nothing like that exists in their experience. They don’t want to apply at the “good” shop because they know that there are high standards; the level of quality expected, the level of accountability and engagement expected, scares them away. They basically don’t have the intestinal fortitude to try a shop like that, and maybe good shops don’t need people who don’t want to stretch and grow.
I know a few shops that have a waiting list of technicians wanting to work for them. How did that come about, in this day and age of shortages? They are able to do this because they have high expectations of quality, they have high levels of accountability and engagement, and high standards of performance. Great technicians hear about that and want to apply. The other thing these shop owners do is brag about their shops, and are usually advertising for technicians, and interviewing people, so that if an opening comes up, they have someone in the bullpen.
There’s just one more thing that prevents shops from finding good employees: the owner themselves. Every business owner has had at least one great employee that fell into their lap by accident. This employee is a hard worker, has a good attitude, is always asking for more responsibility, and is a pleasure to work with. What the shop owner does not realize is that this occurrence was as random as a lottery. They keep expecting that another good employee is just going to walk in the door if they wait long enough. They need to accept that this might never happen again. They are going to have to dig in and do the hard work.
This means creating a job description. You need to learn how to write good advertisements. You need to invest time and money in posting these ads. You need to learn how to conduct proper interviews that are designed to identify great candidates. You need to take a risk and hire someone, and use the probationary period wisely. That means having a good orientation and onboarding process in place. That means lots of training and laying out expectations.
So while we are waiting for all of those technicians to reply to this article, let’s start doing the hard work, lose the attitude and find the good ones ourselves.