Jeremy Stephens admits he was “horrible” his first managerial position.
“I did and said some stupid things,” says Stephens, now fixed operations director for the four-dealership Hiester Automotive Group in NorthCarolina. He’s also a certified leadership trainer and coach.
Eventually he grew into that first management position. The maturation benefited more than just himself.
“When you grow, your staff grows; it’s a ripple effect,” he says. He describes his aim today as creating workplace “dream teams.”
Stephens, a former Chevrolet dealership mechanic, is among dealership pros who offered tips on how to retain auto technicians during a recent Ted Ings’ Fixed Ops Roundtable.
A chronic shortage of qualified mechanics makes it tough for car dealerships to hire them. Consequently, it behooves dealers to strive to retain them once they’re onboard.
At Bozart Ford-Lincoln in St. Augustine, FL, two-thirds of the staffers are age 30 and below.
“That’s unusual,” says Ed Roberts, the store’s chief operating officer. “They want support. They don’t want to do the same thing over and over. Given a chance, they’ll do exceedingly well.”
Bozart adheres to a merit system. “Everything is earned,” says Roberts. “It’s not about moving up because of seniority.” Some new personnel catch on quickly, others take more time. “But if given a chance, most will excel.”
Most technicians want a set schedule and a balance of work and personal life, says Robert Migliaccio, a service director for Carter Myers Automotive, a dealer group based in Staunton, VA. “They also seem like they want to work up the ladder quickly. So, giving them a career path is important.”
Managers at Apple Tree Honda and Acura in Fletcher, NC, try to “build value” in all technician jobs, says service director Richard Lupo.
For example, the dealership makes it a point to describe light-maintenance positions as “entry level,” indicating to rookie employees that “this is your career path to a technician,” Migliaccio says.
“Make them feel there’s a sense of purpose, that what they are doing is important and helps people,” he adds.
Shon Kingrey, vice president of fixed operations at Kayser Automotive Group based in Madison, WI, agrees. “Career pathing is important. And they’ve got to know exactly what they are doing from the get-go.”
But set reasonable expectations, cautions Jim Sabino, fixed operations director at All American Ford with four locations and 110 technicians in New Jersey.
“They are not going to walk in on their first day and work on a Shelby GT350 (a high-performance version of the Ford Mustang),” he says. “But eventually they will.”
A career as an auto technician “is a never-ending learning process,” says Sabino, who recommends including mechanics in shop decision-making and “keeping a career path out in front.”
He encourages veteran auto technicians to work with new ones. “We want senior members to serve as mentors. They have so much knowledge.”
Management empathy and career development go a long way in healthy labor relations, especially when it comes to employee retention, Roberts says. “You’re giving them a life, although they might not realize it right away.”