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On May 24 and 25, the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association (INEDA) hosted its Workforce Development Summit: Innovative Solutions for Hiring and Retention in Grand Island, NE, and Ankeny, IA, respectively. These summits focused on collaboration and gave attendees the opportunity to share their experiences and ideas, as well as develop action plans to take home to their dealerships. We also heard directly from a panel of students about what they are looking for in a future employer.

The level of engagement and honesty from members was unprecedented, as they were able to see each other as experts and trust one another to collaborate on solutions to the issues facing dealers.

Recruiting Solutions

In the area of recruiting, dealer teams focused on improving strategies to connect with local schools and utilizing team members to recruit and build vibrant teams within their dealerships. To succeed in recruiting from schools, they emphasized the importance of building relationships, regular communication, and evaluating and tracking results. It is crucial to have a message that is relevant to teachers and counselors and helps them understand the available opportunities for students. This should be achieved through regular direct contact. Dealers have hosted student visits to their locations through dealer days. It cannot be overstated that having a technician visit with potential technicians (at career fairs, schools, or tech schools) is an authentic and effective way to share the opportunities available to them in your dealership.

Training and Onboarding

The importance of training new staff, especially technicians, was also discussed. Identifying team members with the right personality and perspective is essential. Understanding the tools and best practices from previous onboarding experiences is part of the approach that will yield the best results. It is crucial to ensure that more than just the recruiting team is actively engaged in the journey from recruiting to hiring to training and performance, as this will make a difference in successful onboarding and retention.

Retention and Compensation

Complementing recruitment efforts, a focus was placed on achieving a high retention rate. Specifically, teams discussed how shops compensate technicians and what a meaningful leave policy looks like. Compensation is a key factor that affects retention, and teams discussed the idea of rewarding more efficient technicians individually, as well as providing incentives for all technicians in the shop to have an efficiency/productivity goal. Understanding the efficiency of your staff, tracking data, and using it to make informed decisions are crucial for developing effective compensation models that work best for your teams. The plan doesn’t have to be complex; it simply needs to be responsive to your team and their retention needs.

Flex Scheduling and Time-Off Policies

Similar to productivity, attendees also focused on flex scheduling, vacation, and paid time-off policies. Teams universally agreed that these plans need to reflect the goals of the dealership and the needs of the team. In addition to sick time, vacation/personal time, and bereavement, attendees also discussed accommodations for maternity and paternity leave.

Some dealerships offer staff the choice to take extra time off during Thanksgiving and Christmas, while others allow staff to request trade time off in exchange for making up that time at a later date. It is important to ensure department coverage during peak times. Once again, the plan should be responsive to your team’s needs.

Employee Engagement and Productivity

Employee engagement is essential to understand everything from onboarding to the company’s culture. It is important to engage employees and be committed to responding to concerns or suggestions that arise in the process; otherwise, someone else will. Productivity is not often associated with recruitment, but it has a significant impact on both recruitment and retention. Various aspects of dealership operations affect staff retention, including flex scheduling, seasonal shifts, split shifts, and weekend work. Understanding the needs of both customers and employees is essential for developing effective solutions.

Training and Customer Support

Training is universally recognized as necessary to equip staff and dealerships to meet customer needs and ensure future viability. Multi-location dealerships have chosen to dedicate staff to this effort, while others rely on manufacturers or partners to fulfill this need. Regardless of the model, consistency and effective communication are paramount. Informing staff of their training opportunities, whether online or in person, is essential. Evaluating the cost, engagement, and return on investment/value should be integral to the process. It is worth noting that training benefits not only staff and dealer team members but also customers. Working with customers to help them understand the available tools and resources contributes to their effectiveness and enables your dealership to better meet their needs.

Best Practice Presentations

Dealers were invited to present solutions that have been implemented in their dealerships and provide updates on how those initiatives are working. Here are some examples:

  • LandMark Implement has instituted an Ag Tech Student Coordinator role to mentor and support technician recruits and new employees. They assigned a senior technician to work across all locations, assisting students in their training, schoolwork/prep, and integration into the dealership culture.
  • Bruna Brothers Implement began posting the service schedule publicly in their locations to help customers understand the workflow and scheduled work. This has been particularly helpful for combine service, encouraging customers to sign up for service sooner and managing customer questions about completion times.
  • Titan Machinery is partnering with Grand Island Public Schools to connect with aspiring technicians through the Career Pathways Institute. They hosted the class for a tour and have already benefited from one student working in their shop this summer. They are also hosting a diesel camp for Junior High Students at the Central Community College campus in Hastings, NE.
  • AKRS Equipment outlined their newly announced training program that will accelerate technician training using online training from John Deere and internal staff dedicated to assisting in the training of these participants to meet the expectations of AKRS staff and customers.
  • 21st Century Equipment received a grant from the State of Nebraska to develop an education trailer that travels to schools across their service territory, focusing on middle school students. The goal is to expose them to the tools, skills, and opportunities available to work in agriculture and technology in their communities.

Student Panels

Students from high schools and colleges, both current and former, shared their journeys and how they decided to work in their respective fields and what motivates them. They answered questions on topics such as compensation, time off, motivations, and role models.

These summits were free for INEDA members and their employees to attend, thanks to the support of AgDirect, Federated Insurance, and Tax Favored Benefits.