By Murray Voth
A good friend of mine owns a training company similar to mine in the U.S.
I asked him recently why he thought so few shop owners take management training, and he said that for the most part, shop owners are scared and stubborn. They are scared that they won’t succeed, and they’re too stubborn to change. After all, what got them this far worked.
This is a powerful combination of emotions, because taken together, they mean that many owners believe that trying new ideas will just lead to failure – or prove that they could have done better all along if they had actually tried them sooner.
My friend also pointed out that the independent automotive service sector was fuelled by passion for cars. They may have originally been mechanics who loved cars, loved fixing cars, and loved helping people who owned cars that needed to be fixed. This passion caused them to accept lower than average wages, to invest in their own tools and equipment, and to accept substandard working conditions.
In too many cases, the industry took advantage of this passion, since a lot of dealerships and shop owners benefitted financially from it. Simply put, those at the top passed the whole responsibility for getting paid well on the backs of the technicians themselves – if not wholly, at least in part, through the flat-rate pay system.
Well, the chickens have finally come home to roost. In the last few years, I’ve been hearing from more and more automotive technicians who are leaving the industry for other trades. Others are hanging on bitterly for who knows what, and some are yelling at their kids and anyone else who will listen not to enter the trade. This absolutely breaks my heart.
I was not perfect as an owner, but I am proud to say that I am still friends with some of the technicians who worked at my shop back in the day. In fact, today one of them is a shop owner himself, and is doing very well thanks to his hard work – and all the training he has taken. At my shop, we were passionate about good working conditions, job security, great wages with incentives, and great benefits packages. Most of my current clients are great shops to work at. They are proud of their great facilities, good equipment, pay scale, benefits, and training.
Still, I am always shocked when I hear of a technician telling his kids never to enter the industry. And they say it bitterly. But it is happening more and more. Recently, a former client was featured in a National Post article about great employment opportunities in the automotive industry. The article was all about the changes in technology, the high retirement rate, and the need for technology-savvy people.
The article was posted in several social media platforms that I subscribe to, and the comments began to flow in, many by former technicians who had left the trade. Each of them had their own story, but the common thread was that they did not feel respected – not only were they not respected by those they worked for, but more commonly by the driving public, car owners who resented the fact that vehicles take money to maintain and blamed the automotive technician for that reality. The techs often felt that they were caught in the middle between their boss and the customer.
Many of the shop owners of today are the technicians of the past. Current shop owners who used to be disrespected, underpaid, and undervalued, now do the same to the next generation. For the most part, I don’t think that it is intentional, but it seems like it is a case of the abused becoming the abuser.
When shop owners understand how valuable their technicians are, and have figured out how to communicate that value to customers, they will get paid well by those customers and earn their respect. In turn, these shops pay the highest wages in their market, treat their employees well, and are very profitable.
I feel that it is my calling to help shops run well, and then attract the best, treat them well, and pay them what they are truly worth. In future columns, I’ll show you how investing in your techs isn’t an expense; in fact it will pay direct benefits to your bottom line.