Many trucking companies and commercial vehicle service businesses have a listening problem. Many also are not sufficiently transparent and self-aware. And for all their good intentions, they’re really not skilled when it comes to telling their unique stories to prospective employees.
No wonder the commercial transportation industry is starved for technicians. Not only are fewer students enrolling in the trade schools that traditionally have trained each new generation of “wrenches,” but the industry has been slow to learn and apply lessons that have helped technology companies and other fast rising employers attract skilled workers.
At the same time, a surprising number of technicians are “content but not happy” in their jobs, underscoring the need for fleets and service providers to overhaul their HR efforts, according to Jay Goninen, president and co-founder of WrenchWay, a software company whose mission is to promote and improve technician careers in the automotive, diesel and collision repair industries.
“Founding WrenchWay was based on knowing there was a desperate need for technicians and that the situation wasn’t getting any better,” said Goninen, whose family-owned automotive service business, like most shops, long struggled to find skilled techs.
You’re Not Special...Yet
WrenchWay helps connect fleets, dealerships and other businesses with students enrolled in trade schools as well as the sizable number of experienced techs who are less than satisfied with their current jobs. Most important, however, Goninen’s team works with trade schools and prospective employers to become more competitive in an increasingly tight job market. And often, this process begins with a deep, honest self-assessment.
“Most shops don’t know how they are any different than any other prospective employer,” Goninen said. “During a workshop a few years ago, I asked shop owners and managers to raise their hands if they needed technicians. Every hand went up. How many offered health insurance? Still every hand was up. Free uniforms? Same.
“The lesson was that none of these shops was unique, and as a result they all found themselves relying solely on money in trying to attract techs.”
While salary and benefits are certainly important to prospective employees, a shop’s culture and other characteristics can be powerful differentiators. Flexible work hours—perhaps from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., as one example—can be attractive to some techs, while others are looking for as many hours as possible so they can take home more money at the end of the week. Opportunities for upward mobility are important, as well. In other words, each person has a unique set of priorities, or emotional triggers, which will guide his or her choice of employer.
Aligning one’s business culture and work environment with as many of these desirable characteristics—within reason, of course—can make a huge difference in recruiting, employee satisfaction and, ultimately, shop productivity. But it all begins with a willingness to adapt to a changing market and connect with current and prospective employees in an authentic way.
“If anyone’s been around technicians for any amount of time, they know they are a skeptical bunch, and rightly so,” Goninen said. This is where WrenchWay is particularly effective. Goninen’s team members help fleets and maintenance executives develop “Top Shop” pages focused on the personal and cultural advantages they offer to technicians. These carefully crafted stories are communicated in text and video, with an emphasis on interviews of current technicians and shop managers rather than C-suite executives.
“We help promote businesses by showing off the different personalities you might encounter while working there,” Goninen explained. “Who are those people? Who are the managers? Who am I going to sign up to work for? If they can’t answer these questions up front, what’s going to drive a tech to apply to their business, other than the promise of a larger paycheck?"
Breaking Down Barriers
Authenticity is particularly important when recruiting seasoned technicians, who understand how marketable their skills are in today’s labor market. Many, while perhaps not in love with their current positions, view a job search as a risky, time-intensive hassle. By giving them a deeper understanding of other, more positive work environments available in their areas, they will be more likely to reach out and submit applications.
Yet, attracting techs is only half the challenge; shops must apply the same self-examination and authenticity with existing employees or risk losing them. “The biggest piece of advice I give to shops is to listen—listen to your techs and what they like best and least in their jobs. And if they’re not giving you good answers, ask better questions. It’s amazing what you can learn by connecting with the people who work for you,” he said.
Goninen also recommends keeping maintenance shop employees apprised of any and all changes impacting the business. Is profitability up or down? Why? Help every employee understand their role not only in keeping vehicles on the road but also in terms of the business’s P&L statement. Everyone appreciates knowing that what they do matters. No one enjoys feeling they’re little more than a number.
Having a hard time maintaining a full team of “wrenches?” Perhaps tomorrow’s first work order should be aimed at tweaking the business culture you’ve developed and the stories you share with current and prospective employees. The results might pay dividends for years to come.
Addressing the Technician Shortage with Technology
In addition to examining your culture, technology can also play an important role in helping support and empower your employees, including your technicians.
At Trimble, we help transportation organizations like yours do just that. Check out our comprehensive set of asset maintenance solutions to not only enhance the technician experience but maximize vehicle uptime across your business.