Service departments these days are slammed with repair orders from cautious consumers repairing equipment for what might be the last year of its life. It’s a demanding time for the service department and dealers are relying heavily on their technicians—when they can find the right ones for the job.
As the industry consolidates and the economy leaves people from all areas looking for work, there are plenty of people out there interested in being a small engine technician. The problem is that there is a shortage of qualified individuals to do the work required of a technician as equipment technology continues to evolve.
Focusing on raising the level of competency in technicians along with their compensation will keep service departments staffed and meeting today’s demands.
Assessing the shortage
Industry members have long noted the shortage of people interested in small engine repair. Now, with the poor economy still playing a role and leaving people without work, individuals looking for gainful employment are giving more thought to turning a wrench. On top of that, there is also the consolidation of dealerships in some territories resulting in technicians already within the industry looking for work.
“There has been a little bit of a downturn in the need for technicians because of the economy,” says Jim Roche, executive director for the Equipment & Engine Training Council (EETC). “Overall, I think the need is going to get even lower. When we first started the EETC in 1997, there was a shortage of 30,000 technicians in the U.S. That has lessened a bit now with the recession because a lot of dealers have closed their doors, but there is still a need for qualified guys.”
The problem is that with new technology, the industry needs more than a “wrench turner”. With service department demands increasing, the industry needs highly skilled small engine technicians.
“With the higher technology we are putting out there, technicians need to know so much more to work on equipment,” says Scott Mack, senior training specialist at Kohler. “We need to know that technicians can do the job. With more complex engines, we need to know they understand what they are doing so we can satisfy our end-user customers as well.”
Encouraging technician certification is now even more of a focus for dealers and manufacturers who don’t want to rely on the know-how of new entrants to the field. While the number of people interested in the profession continues to increase, the number of skilled technicians remains the same—and it’s a small pool to pick from.
“The shortage of qualified technicians is still very much there,” agrees Bruce Radcliff, Briggs & Stratton’s director of customer education. “Although there has been much effort, I don’t think it’s much different today than it was five years ago as far as the number of quality technicians.
As manufacturers push to raise competency in technicians, they have started by making training and certification more easily attainable. Technology has afforded many dealers and technicians the ability to stay up-to-date with testing and certification easily and affordably.
Briggs & Stratton has embraced technology as a means to communicate with and educate technicians. Their website provides online training and competency testing for dealers to gauge their technicians’ abilities. They see that the value is in certification and not necessarily the face time provided by attending update schools.
“Our site is growing every day with a series of competency tests for anyone who wants to be a Briggs & Stratton certified dealer,” explains Radcliff. “The requirement used to be that technicians attend a school. We are moving from them attending with a warm body and a pulse to competency-based. We care less about how they gain the competency and more about if they can prove it.”
Updating tests with the changing industry demands is also important. Briggs & Stratton continuously evaluates test content based on testing scores.