When you look at the staffing issues currently affecting repair shops in either the collision or service space, as if you were an emergency room physician dealing with a patient who is bleeding to death, it is apparent that two life-threatening hemorrhages exist right now that need our attention. Often, it is easy to look at a problem globally. So, we get overwhelmed by the big picture, rather than taking the triage approach of identifying the most pervasive issues. This is where ER doctors, nurses and great diagnostic technicians can be our models for fixing the ails of our industry.
We are hemorrhaging the journeyman technicians and shop owners, those career professionals who are credited with elevating this industry to the position where it is now. The real heartbreaking part of this reality is that they often leave the industry, taking with them the institutional knowledge that is never again to be shared with the next generation.
There is another related loss, although smaller, in that experienced techs and owners who feel overwhelmed by new technology make the decision to do only what they are good at until they decide to exit the industry. But, it is a well-documented fact that once someone stops learning, his or her present skills become withdrawn. Our brains like and need constant stimulation to retain and maintain the relevancy of our current skill sets.
Both of these unfortunate conditions rob the industry of its potential teachers, mentors, estimators, field service engineers and a whole list of other jobs that I have not touched upon that could put these folks into a second career — one that does not rely upon the physical prowess that is associated with actual repairs.
I have already written about the astonishing number of entry-level techs who do not make it through two years in the industry once they complete a vocational program. For reference, that number represents roughly half of those who are still working in the industry.
Is it really true that half of the kids who spent the time and money to complete a program are not capable of “making it” in a repair shop? The optimist in me says “No.” How do we stop that hemorrhage? I think the answer lies in mentorship. The NASTF “Road to Great Technicians” team and the ASE Education Foundation, along with SP2, independently reached the same conclusion. A lot of brain horsepower exists between those groups, along with enough institutional industry knowledge and experience, to deserve that we take them seriously.
In a nutshell, I feel that Kyle Holt from SP2 put it best, “Take a freshly graduated technician, and connect them to a “willing” mentor with a training program that teaches the mentor how to be a mentor and a mentee what is expected of them. Choose the mentor carefully; one who is your best communicator and not necessarily your best technician.” One other quote from Kyle that I think deserves mention is, “The only sustainable competitive advantage is for shops to grow their own technicians.”
If we could collectively treat these two issues first, the future would have a much less blurry look to it.
I will close by adding that if you’ve intentionally chosen this industry as your career, you know how exciting it is to solve a tough problem. You also understand that there are daily opportunities to experience the satisfaction of completion, and every day is an opportunity to start over. Not many skill-based jobs offer the ability to use both your mind and your hands in this way. But, I hear so many really talented techs say they would never “allow” their kids to get into this industry. I think that is short sighted. The job is going to change, but the opportunities are going to be huge. So, the time is now to make this a job you would want your kid to perform.