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10 Sure-Fire Ways to Recruit Qualified Techs

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How to attract, train and retain the right people.

By Cassie Paton

If there’s one thing heavy duty truck shop owners around the country can agree on, it’s this observation about recruitment: There aren’t enough good techs these days.

“I can get all the business I want because trucks have to run,” says Judy Lindenmuth, co-owner of The Truck Shoppe in Sacramento, California. “But as far as finding qualified techs, it’s my biggest obstacle—it’s very, very tough.”

And, it’s no wonder. For every 10 techs retiring, only two enter back into the industry. The shortage is a real challenge, but that doesn’t mean there are no good techs to be found.

For the desperate, frustrated and weary shop owners out of ideas for recruiting skilled mechanics, here are 10 tips to find your next hire.

A "Help Wanted" sign displayed at Scheffer Truck Service.
Photo courtesy Scheffer Truck Service

1. Display signage—even if you don’t have a job available.

Yes, it’s sooo old school. However, even in the digital age of advertising, don’t forget the tried-and-true “Help Wanted” sign.

Take advantage of the free ad space available in your own garage. Place signage in your meeting area, marquee or other high-traffic areas where it will get the most exposure.

“We always keep a ‘Help Wanted’ sign on our front door,” says Todd Scheffer, co-owner of Scheffer Truck Service in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. “Everyone who comes here knows we’re hiring.”

In fact, Scheffer keeps the sign up even when he doesn’t need help. “Even if I didn’t have a spot available, I’d make room if someone were really qualified,” he says.

2. Ask your techs, local vendors and network for referrals.

When looking to make a hire, Debbie Jennerjohn, co-owner of Ultimate Truck Service in Ridgefield, Washington, says, “You have to flood the network.”

Jon Schuberg agrees. “We always let our tools and parts vendors know when we’re looking, because they visit lots of shops and talk to the techs,” says the service advisor at Quality Truck & Tire Service in Clare, Michigan.

Outreach serves as one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to find the right person. As they say, it’s all about who you know. “Word of mouth is better than any app or website I’ve used,” Lindenmuth says. When her shop is in need of new talent, she talks to her staff, family, friends, and even techs who have worked for her in the past and left the company on good terms.

Facebook and LinkedIn groups also direct you to people in the industry who may be looking or have a connection. Bottom line? “You can’t wait for them to come to you,” Lindenmuth says.

The Pinkelman Truck & Trailer diesel repair tech and office team.Photo courtesy Pinkelman Truck & Trailer

Pinkelman Truck & Trailer’s promotional photo gives prospective employees a clear idea of the team they’ll be working with.

3. Seek out popular job sites.

Think about job boards as great power tools—they can perform for you if you know how to use them. Some industry-specific sites include FindAMechanic.com and MechanicHunter.com, which allow you to browse résumés of qualified techs in your area. Other sites such as Indeed.com, ZipRecruiter.com and Glassdoor.com also let you search résumés for relevant keywords.

When it comes to posting jobs, the quality of applicants depends on how you sell your business. “Varying your ads is key,” says Amber Pinkelman, co-owner of Pinkelman Truck & Trailer in Norfolk, Nebraska. “If you’re posting ads and not getting a lot of responses, or you’re not attracting good candidates, change the wording.”

For Scheffer, whose business is located in a small midwest town of about 40,000 people, the talent pool is small. So, he creates out-of-state Craigslist.com posts and advertises in St. Louis–which is only a few hours away.

Keep in mind, a great tech can afford to be picky, so make sure you offer something appetizing on the benefits menu. Scheffer, for one, is open to providing incentives. “I want to be better than the competition as far as what we pay and offer in benefits,” he says.

Jennerjohn allows employees to accrue personal time off. They can acquire one and a half hours per week and accumulate up to 12 days off per year to use as needed. “It’s a benefit I created, where they don’t have to lose pay if they need time off,” Jennerjohn says. “It’s one way for us to compete with [incentives offered by] bigger companies.”

Actions for Attracting the Right People

It’s no easy task to recruit top performing techs if you can’t even hang onto the ones you’ve got. That’s why Jeff Peevy says it’s all about creating a learning culture in your business.

“Technician knowledge and skills affect business performance,” says Peevy, president of the Automotive Management Institute in North Richland Hills, Texas. “A shop that doesn’t have a learning culture typically discourages technicians from sharing knowledge.”

The highest performing shops, he says, value communication and sharing knowledge. They also have the lowest turnover. Peevy suggests the following tips to grow your business:

• Treat knowledge as a company asset, and invest in employee training.

• Put “willingness to learn and train” in your job ads to attract lifelong learners and hard workers.

• When interviewing candidates, focus less on experience and more on attitude. The right person can be trained.

• Get your whole team on board with recruiting viable candidates. “It has to start with management, but it isn’t a movement until employees get behind it,” Peevy says.

4. Ooh rah! Hire a veteran.

Veterans between 18 and 34 years old face a higher unemployment rate than civilians in the same age group, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015. However, it’s not due to a lack of talent. It’s the result of no set path existing for vets once they’ve left the military, so reintegrating into society presents a challenge.

Veterans are highly disciplined, take orders well and have relevant experience. And, don’t forget, “91 Bravo” is Army lingo for a wheeled vehicle mechanic. As Colonel Kilgore once said, “I love the smell of diesel in the morning,” or something like that.

“Many vets are trained to work on diesel engines, which are more common in the military,” says Tony Molla, vice president of the Automotive Service Association in North Richland Hills, Texas. “Many of the engines they’ve worked on are virtually identical to those used in heavy duty trucks across the country.”

Molla recommends HireAHero.org, a job board for veterans. Plus, state workforce investment boards can help you find job-seeking veterans in connection with the United States Department of Labor.

5. Visit career technical schools and local colleges.

If you lament the lack of young people coming into the industry but don’t hire or train any of them, you might be part of the problem. Use local colleges and technical programs as a resource. Molla recommends getting involved in vocational education programs in your area and joining an advisory council.

One distinct advantage of hiring students is cheap labor. “The biggest thing we’re doing is bringing on interns from the trade schools,” Schuberg says. “You get to test drive them before you hire them.”

Mick Goleash is in the process of starting an apprenticeship program at his shop. The owner of MBC Collision Center in Springfield, Illinois, eventually wants to pay his techs to train younger workers. And, Irvin Bowman hired four techs new to the industry. “None of them were truck techs before they came to work for me,” says the owner of Wayne Truck & Trailer Ltd. in Sidney, Ohio. “I trained them all.”

It’s beneficial to look at the skills potential interns possess, but it’s more important that they have the right attitude. “If they’re willing to learn, you can train them to do anything,” Jennerjohn says. “It has been well worth it for us.”

6. Offer headhunting bonuses.

People love to lend a hand—especially if they’re getting paid. Headhunting bonuses or finder’s fees tend to mobilize people in your network. If you’re in dire need of a qualified employee, it’s well worth it to shell out a few Benjamins.

Lindenmuth attracts applicants with a $500 finder’s fee. If she hires the employee, the referrer gets half of that money upfront. “They get the other half if the worker maintains employment with us for another 30 days,” she says.

Henry Uribe offers a $1,000 headhunting bonus. The co-owner of Onsite Equipment Repair in Ontario, California, issues the payment if the worker stays at his company for six months.

Some shops offer incentives such as free oil changes for life. “We all have to step up to the plate and make it happen, so we can compete with dealers,” Lindenmuth says. “You have to think outside of the box.”

Equipment Experts team of diesel repair techs
Photo courtesy Equipment Experts

7. Advertise in economically depressed cities.

If you’re in a rural area, it can be especially tough to find local talent. That’s why Pinkelman looks at economically depressed cities to recruit workers who have the crude oil blues. She runs a monthly search and posts ads on Craigslist.com in those areas.

“Oil fields are drying up, and people aren’t getting as much work in parts of North Dakota and Oklahoma,” Pinkelman says. “A lot of people are willing to move depending on circumstances in their area.”

Scheffer agrees, adding, “Find out what people need and what it takes to get them to relocate.”

Find out what people need and what it takes to get them to relocate.

8. Scour state unemployment sites.

Just because qualified mechanics are in high demand doesn’t mean all of the good techs are already taken. Consider locating your next hire on state unemployment sites. Technicians find themselves out of work for all kinds of reasons, so don’t assume a gap in someone’s employment means you should overlook them. Evaluate their experience, and do your research.

“Check references thoroughly,” says Schuberg, who believes that they often tell you more about a candidate than a résumé. That information may ease any concerns you might have about their unemployment.

Shop owners in economically stagnant areas can benefit from state resources that list résumés, especially if they can’t afford to lure talent from out of state.

9. Reach out to women.

Making a conscious decision to recruit women in the industry can be well worth the effort. If you don’t try to enlist them, you’re ignoring a growing group of skilled—and strong—workers.

“Hire the best techs whether they’re male or female,” says Stacy Conner, co-owner of Equipment Experts in Tacoma, Washington, and member of We Care, an advisory group on women’s excellence in the auto care industry. “But put the opportunity out there and market toward women like you would for men. For example, your job ads might mention a schedule that’s flexible for families.”

Talk to the women you already know in the industry to make sure your job ads don’t use language that appeals only to men. Plus, strive to create a workplace that any qualified tech would feel comfortable in, regardless of gender.

10. Continue your search.

There’s one thing shop owners should always do.

“Never stop recruiting,” Pinkelman says. “You can’t take a day off. I never want to take the chance that I’m going to lose out on a good tech because he or she saw someone else’s job ad on Monday, and I didn’t post until Wednesday.”

Conner says she has two to three different ads up at all times, while Schuberg’s biggest piece of advice is to conduct ongoing interviews: “Take a day once a week to go through your applications,” he says. “Be in contact with people, so you always have somebody waiting in the wings.”

Photo courtesy Equipment Experts

 

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