Playing for Keeps

As dealership service departments are slammed with repair orders, keeping the department staffed is the main focus of dealers. Finding qualified or trainable technicians and keeping them happy is a constant effort.

As competing dealers fight for techs from the same small pool of qualified individuals, you need to attract and retain technicians to your dealership through your on-the-job support and company culture.

Finding qualified technicians

The first part of the struggle to keep a service department staffed is locating qualified technicians. High school graduates and individuals finishing military service who have shown an interest in small engine repair are two good candidates for on-the-job training.

"The military provides excellent training and discipline, two things a dealer is looking for," says Jim Roche, executive director for EETC. "Partner with local high schools and tech colleges that have a power equipment training program to have access to candidates."

Roche advises joining the school's advisory council for the program to get access to the best students and influence the curriculum. Patty Williams of Mark Williams Outdoor Equipment in Murphysboro, IL, and NAEDA OPE Dealer Council member, has implemented an internship program and employs two part-time technician interns annually from the local high school.

"The intern doesn’t do the technical things, but they help by preparing tools, parts and equipment for the others," says Williams. "Occasionally, that intern will stay with us through college."

Roche would agree that Williams is taking that right approach in being proactive. Keeping your eye out for technicians before you need a replacement will help greatly if your current tech leaves, and your customer service has the potential to suffer.

"You never know when your best guy or girl is going to leave you, so you should be looking all the time," says Roche. "This is why getting involved with schools is so important."

Grooming and supporting your tech

Once you have found an individual for the job, you should groom them by helping them to further develop their skills in the service department. An investment in your technician's abilities is an investment in the success of your service department.

"A graduating student isn’t ready to take on the task of head technician," says Roche. "But if a dealer hires who he sees has great potential, he can bring him in and nurture him to get him up to speed."

In addition to providing technicians with the education and training they need to succeed in their job, the right tools in the shop offer additional support.

"We provide them with the tools to do their job efficiently," says Williams. "We give them the tools both in their environment in the shop, and educationally through training."

Williams has instituted an allowance program that gives employees the opportunity to earn credits toward purchasing education or tools that will help them to better perform their duties.

Keeping them happy

If your technician becomes unsatisfied with the work environment, they can easily find work elsewhere. Many of your competitors may have even contacted your tech with what sounds like a better offer.

"Our techs are constantly contacted by other dealerships," says Julie Muehlhauser, operations manager at Scott's Power Equipment Inc., with several Missouri locations. "Many dealerships in the area recruit very aggressively in the spring, only to lay everyone off in 60-90 days."

Competitive wages and good benefits go a long way to keep techs loyal. However, if they are not happy with the working conditions and company culture, they may be more than willing to trade in perks like pay for a better day-to-day experience.

"Our pay is very competitive and that always helps," says Muehlhauser. "However, our family atmosphere and the fact that they know there is some stability in their position is what really keeps them around."

Creating an inviting place to work with opportunities of further education is essential to your technician's job satisfaction. Involving your tech in the business' day-to-day makes them feel committed and invested in the dealership's success. With those feelings of loyalty, they will be less likely to look for work elsewhere.