Dealer Strategies to Keep, Motivate Technicians

Car dealer John Luciano appreciates auto technicians so much he’s thinking of becoming one when he retires.

Steve Finlay, Senior Editor

June 29, 2023

4 Min Read
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“It’s this simple: Treat people how you want to be treated,” Baker says of attracting and retaining qualified auto technicians.Getty Images

Texas car dealer John Luciano, 65, says he may eventually become an accredited auto technician.

Not that he plans to work as one; it’s just something he’d like to do.

“I still race and work on cars, but I’m not certified,” says the dealer principal of Amarillo Street Volkswagen. “When I retire, I may get the certification. Just to do it. For fun.”

Working as a dealership mechanic isn’t always fun. Yes, it can be fulfilling and financially rewarding, with pay for top technicians reaching six figures.

But the job comes with stress.

That’s why mechanics can get “emotional,” says repair-industry veteran Marvin Baker.

Luciano (pictured below, left)  doesn’t dispute that.

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0626sfLuciano.JPG

“The pressure you put on yourself as a tech can be stout,” Luciano tells Wards. “You may plan your day out, but then something happens, like a part not coming in or running into repair complications. Your day starts to pack up.

"Then the service writer is barking at you. Then the customer gets mad enough to call the service manager. Now he’s barking at you. Yeah, it can be a lot of pressure if you don’t have a strong support system. The job can build some emotion.”

Baker tells Wards: “Some technicians are quick to tell you: ‘My toolbox has wheels, and I can roll the heck out of here.’ Anyone in this industry has heard that more times than they care to admit from techs who often supply their own tools. Emotional techs can get upset and leave. And sometimes regret it afterward."

Both he and Luciano are keen advocates of creating positive work environments that both retain dealership auto mechanics and attract new ones.

There aren’t enough of the latter, causing a chronic shortage of qualified technicians in the dealership world.        

“Almost everyone is concerned about retaining, training and finding new people to fill positions moving forward,” says Baker, executive director-enterprise revenue and customer experience for Solera, a data and software provider to the automotive industry, including repair facilities.

He recalls a conversation with a retiring service director: “I asked him the main reason he was retiring. With no hesitation, he said, ‘The technician shortage. I’m sick and tired of dealing with it.’"

To Baker, “That wasn’t surprising to me; more of a confirmation.”

Why is there a shortage of qualified applicants for a job that seems appealing for those who possess the technical aptitude to do it?

“The short answer is that more people are leaving the industry – mostly through retirement – than are replacing them,” says Baker (pictured below, left) .

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0626Baker.jpeg

The longer answer comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency projects that  73,300 technicians will need to join the workforce each year to keep up with vacancies. As Baker says, retirements contribute to the worker shortage. So does the decline in the number of working adults (age 15 to 65). The Society of Human Resources Management predicts that number will shrink by 3% within a decade. Luciano, who serves on VW’s national dealer council, speaks of a strong commitment by dealers and automakers to recruit prospective mechanics.

Many programs to do so target high school students. But Luciano recommends initially engaging earlier by reaching out to junior high schoolers.      

“If you wait, they often have already made other career plans,” he says of prospective young mechanics," he says. “If you show kids that auto technicians do a lot of cool things and work with computers – that cars are like overgrown computers – it helps. It helps to get that message out.”

As far as retaining newly hired service department workers, it also helps to outline a career path. “We show someone starting out as a lube tech how they can train to become a C or B tech and then an A tech and possibly become master-certified, at which point you be making six figures," says Luciano. “We want people to get up in the morning and say, ‘I want to make money today.’ Most mechanics are just car guys who love cars and want to work on them.”

Baker’s family started an auto repair shop in Mansfield, OH, in 1953. It’s still operating. “My whole life is about this industry and this topic,” he says, referring to replenishing auto mechanic ranks. 

He speaks of an “age-old misperception” of what a mechanic is. “If you walk into today’s modern service department it is filled with smart, skilled people working in well-lit, high-tech environments with all sorts of modern tools. It’s not the grease monkey of old.”

The average mechanic has worked in the Baker family’s repair business for 17 years; the longest, 45 years. “That speaks to having great culture,” Baker says. It’s this simple: Treat people how you want to be treated.”

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