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One way to boost auto-technician happiness: Ditch flat-rate pay, Collins says.

How Car Dealerships Can Avoid ‘the Great Resignation’

Automotive veterans offer tips on hiring and retaining good employees.

One of four polled car dealership auto technicians say they dislike their job.

That discontent often leads to “I quit” declarations, which is why job turnover among dealership technicians reaches nearly 30%, says Meredith Collins, managing director of Carlisle & Co., citing the consulting firm’s research.

But it gets worse than service employees merely serving notice and going away. They’ll often bad-mouth the job to others.

“They say they wouldn’t recommend (an auto technician) career, and that hurts recruiting,” says Collins (pictured, below left).

meredith collins (002).pngWhy are so many mechanics unhappy? Mainly it’s about pay, Collins says at an Automotive News webinar entitled “Avoiding the ‘Great Resignation’” focusing on dealership fixed operations.

It’s not so much how much most technicians are paid but how they are paid: a flat rate. That means if they are not working on a vehicle, they aren’t getting compensated for being at work.  

About a third of the time dealership technicians are on the job is uncompensated, Collins says. “It costs them an average of $17,000 a year.”

But, as usual, it’s not just about the money.

“Money is not the only problem,” Collins says, noting that a poor dealership “culture” can foster discontent.

Technicians who walk are not just going to another dealership. “Many are leaving the industry,” says Jay Goninen, president of WrenchWay, which pairs prospective service employees and employers.

Technicians who bolt often “go into fields such as electronics and HVAC, where they can use their hands,” he says. “A lot of them are looking for something different.”  

Many dealers pride themselves on running employee-friendly workplaces, but many mechanics “have the perception that all dealerships are the same,” Goninen says.

He and other webinar participants offer tips on how dealers can boost employee satisfaction (which, in a ripple effect, can affect customer satisfaction).

“Dealerships that do a good job of taking care of their people are able to show off they are good places to work,” Goninen says.

He recommends auto retailers “open their eyes to flexible schedules” and ditch flat-rate pay for technicians.  Currently, about 75% of them are compensated that way.

Joel Furno, founder and CEO of Citrin, an employee-placement company specializing in entry-level dealership employees such as porters and valets, says that to hire and keep good employees, dealers should:

  • Craft well-written help-wanted ads.
  • Offer competitive wages and flexible scheduling.
  • Cut through hiring red tape. “Some dealers take two to three weeks to bring new employees on board,” Furno says. “Some hourly-rate people can’t wait that long.” So, they take another job offer.

Dealers that consistently hire and retain productive employees “outline career opportunities,” Collins says. “It helps when people know what they can achieve and get help getting there.”   
Many dealership managers think they do well in employee relations when they actually don’t, Goninen says. “A lot of dealers say their people are a No.1 priority, yet it is low on their to-do list. Move it up. Make it actionable every day.”

Yet, it’s sometimes hard to constantly spread happiness in a dealership, which Collins calls a “hustle and bustle place.”  

The service department traditionally has been a male-dominated workplace, but that is slowly changing. About 2% of auto mechanics are women.

But many of them are standout employees, says Dana Rapoport, the TechForce Foundation’s chief of diversity and inclusion.

She says she’s spoken with about 60 female auto technicians. Her takeaway: “Women have the drive and a deep sense of commitment to this job.”

She adds, “We’re definitely seeing a change, more opportunities and more women coming in.”

Webinar participants Jen Campbell and Nicole Cockcroft are two women who have risen through the dealership fixed-operation ranks. Both started as service advisers.

Campbell now is service director at Mercedes-Benz of New London (CT).

“I was the only female at this end of the dealership,” she says. “There were 35 guys. They were helpful and nice. When we all make money, we’re all happy.”

Cockcroft currently is the parts and service manager at Headquarter Mazda in the central Florida city of Clermont.

Early on, she says she bumped heads with a couple of male employees who were unaccustomed to a female working in the service department. “But once we got the team atmosphere, everything was OK.”

TAGS: Fixed Ops
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