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[Author: Tom Junge, 07.17 | Keywords: Iowa Field Director, Technicians]

Where can I find a tech? This is a question Iím frequently asked by dealers. As a matter of fact, one day in early June I heard it from not one, but three dealers. 

Finding technicians has been a problem for years and I donít see that changing anytime soon. It may even get worse as more baby boomers retire. While there is no easy answer, some dealers have found success when it comes to recruiting and retaining techs. Hereís a look at what has worked for them. 

Retention

I cannot discuss employee recruitment with a dealer without talking about existing techs first. If a dealer needs to replace a good tech that they lost to another business, then that needs to be addressed before spending resources on recruiting and training someone new, just to see them leave a short time later.

I recall one dealer who got tired of losing techs, so he decided to become the best paying dealer in the area for techs. When doing this he also raised his labor rate so he could afford to pay them. Years later he told me, “I fought the retention and hiring battle too long, so I decided to be the best paying employer in town. Now I don’t have that problem anymore.”

On the other hand was a dealer with a revolving door of techs who was low on the pay scale compared to other dealers and businesses in the community. While he recognized the problem, it was hard for him to make the change. He wanted to pay his techs more, but couldn’t raise his labor rates to cover the increased expense due to the inexperienced techs he had on staff (a vicious cycle). Finally, he decided to bite the bullet and pay his techs more, raising his labor rate after the techs gained experience. He later came to the realization that having more experienced techs on staff translated to both happier customers and increased productivity.

Understand Why You Are Losing Techs

Is it wages? Research what manufacturers, car dealers, truck dealers, county maintenance shops and other ag and construction dealers in your area are paying technicians. Have you asked why tech schools don’t cater to ag dealers? Is it because truck dealers pay more and it is easier for the school to recruit students to be techs for truck dealers than ag dealers? Find out!

Younger techs also desire free time. They don’t care to work weekends and want time off for family events like school activities. When talking with a dealer about recruitment, he mentioned that he heard from another employee that one of his best techs was getting pressure from his wife to change jobs so he could have more time off to attend their children’s school activities. After hearing this, the dealer met with the employee and accommodated his desire to leave early a couple days a week to attend spring sporting events.

One of our biggest competitors for techs in the past has been county maintenance facilities. Often, techs go to work there for the 40-hour workweek, as well as the state retirement plan. If these are big issues for techs today, then dealers better adjust. I’ve found a few dealers who have adjusted their workweek and are no longer open on Saturdays, except during planting and harvest seasons. Many more are considering this change. Last summer, one dealer offered employees Friday afternoon off without pay and was surprised with how many took him up on the offer to get a head start on weekend camping activities or traveling.

Working environment can also affect retaining and recruiting techs. Is your facility clean, well-lit and
inviting? Many dealers have told me how much employees embrace remodeling and improvements to
working conditions.

Another thing dealers can do is to hold employee appreciation events, like employee/retreats, cook outs, etc.

I believe that improved communications with employees can also prove instrumental in retaining employees. Dealers must find out what “trips the trigger” for each employee. Plus, these discussions should take place periodically, not just during an annual review. Dealers need to be flexible. One “plan or employee contract” might not fit all. For some employees the trigger might be wages, while others may want time off or benefits. While having a different policy for each employee will come with its own issues, increased communication with employees may head-off some of them.

Recruitment

Now that you have addressed retention issues (wages, “flex-time,” benefits, working conditions, etc.) and are competitive with other businesses, it is time to start recruiting employees.

You’ve all heard the saying “location, location, location…” The same is true when it comes to hiring employees. Often, the main reason given by techs for leaving were to be closer to family or a girlfriend/boyfriend. Most dealers tell me if they hire a tech just out of tech school and the student isn’t from their local vicinity, they will only be at a dealership three years before moving home. I guess the key to finding a long-lasting employee is to recruit locally.

If you are looking for young workers, look at your current customers first. Do they have children who might be interested in working for you? Send a letter to customers sharing the different opportunities available in your dealership. Parents want to see their children stay close to home.

Visit your local high school and meet with the guidance counselor, ag education instructor or industrial education instructor. Tell them about the scholarships you offer.

Offer half-day job shadowing opportunities so students can learn about the positions available at your dealership (target freshmen and sophomores in high school). While students are at your dealership let them know about the scholarship and tool reimbursement programs you offer. If you don’t have a tool reimbursement program, develop one. Tools are expensive and could be a major hurdle for new hires.

Support your local community colleges offering a general diesel or ag technician program. Some of these programs need students to stay in existence. Encourage your manufacturer to establish a sponsored training program with a community college. Often, these programs are more successful with larger enrollments. The top prospective technicians attend these programs.

Look outside the box. Don’t only consider men. More and more females are working in parts, sales, and
precision equipment sales & support. Many have equipment backgrounds and are fully capable of working at
a dealership.

Ag and industrial equipment dealers are competing for the same people who go to a community college to become an auto or truck technician, electrician, plumber or work in another trade. The winner will be the one who puts forth the most effort and has instilled a hiring and retention environment in their dealership.

 


About the Author

Tom Junge

Tom has traveled across Iowa calling on members for more than 24 years. When he’s not on the road, Tom stays busy managing both the Iowa and Nebraska Power Farming Shows. In his free time, Tom enjoys watching college and NFL football, fruit gardening and taking trips with his wife and children.