Don’t Lose Service Profits Due to Master Tech Scarcity

We’re not alone when it comes to a labor shortage. Data released in July by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates job openings hit a record high in May. The increase largely reflects more vacant positions in the healthcare, education, accommodation, and food services sectors. But few industries have been as directly affected and had revenues hit as much as the automotive industry with the scarcity of technicians. Don't surrender. Much like the pandemic, this is another opportunity for your dealership to innovate!


Let’s start with some facts.


The availability of vaccines paired with a broader reopening of the economy has spurred a snapback in economic activity in recent months. But consumer demand has largely outpaced the ability of businesses to hire. In short, the business is there! 


Many dealers are missing out on a great profit center that is a win-win for consumers and dealers alike, and that is recalls. We’ve got more vehicle owners affected by recalls than dealers can take on due to a lack of technicians and/or service bays. It’s real – very real.  However, buried beneath the obvious discomfort is a workforce ready to get off the bench from binge-watching Netflix. 


The problem is that sadly, too many dealers feel that only their master techs or service bays with lifts can handle these recall repairs, so they are turning down service business unnecessarily. It can be quite profitable when you consider that several states have passed legislation making warranty and recall work billable at retail rates – Tennessee being the latest one, effective July 1, 2021. And it is something your customers need and want!


Let me show you the face of your future technicians. How do I know? Because my son is considering being an automotive technician as we speak. Sure, he’s my son and I’m going to brag a little. However, I also envision hundreds of thousands of kids in similar situations.  They're young, smart, ambitious, tech-savvy, and have grown up on a steady diet of watching others live extravagant lives through social media. The good news is that they want to make money. However, you also need to recognize that this generation is not immediately drawn to what they consider "blue-collar" careers -- or getting grease and oil under their fingers – stereotypes that don’t always hold true. 


At the risk of dating myself, I grew up with cars. I took four years of auto shop and spent it rebuilding a 1968 Chevelle from the ground up. With all that love for cars and experience under the hood, even I didn’t end up as a technician. So, when I look at my son and realize that this generation doesn’t have the same fascination with getting under the hood, it’s no wonder we’re short on techs. However, what drew my son to this career path is a combination of several attributes that we need to leverage as an industry. 


  1. Today’s cars are just really big computers that roll. Tomorrow's technician has a passion for technology, computers, smartphones, robotics, and everything that yesterday’s grease monkey didn’t have. We’re going to need both skillsets in the service center of the future.

  2. The money is good. Compare the starting pay for a marketing position to an automotive technician. Shops are climbing tall fences to secure talent coming out of tech schools, bringing significant signing bonuses with them.

  3. Tomorrow’s techs crave more flexibility. It’s happening in offices too – they don’t want to be stuck in a cubicle. For service departments, highlight opportunities with your mobile repair team, or outdoor service environments where a lift is not required, and you can offer a more interesting work environment.

  4. Remove barriers to entry such as having to invest in every tool under the sun. More repairs require laptops, so new techs may be turned off by spending money on tools such as ratchet extenders, ball-joint splitters, and other lesser-used tools.

  5. Create a culture where new recruits can immediately feel part of the team. Discourage cultures that encourage bullying. True, most of us paid our dues. However, in this new era, the teasing and jokes may intimidate younger staff and foster an unhealthy environment that pushes them out. There’s no room for pranking in a shop.

  6. Promote quickly. Let’s get beyond how us old guys used to do it. Truth is, we should be encouraging all races, sexual orientations, and genders to look at our industry. And, once they arrive, show them the blueprint for promotion. Reward them for ongoing training and development, as well as a willingness to play an active role in the team. This generation wants to belong and craves recognition.  


If you are short on experienced technicians and competing to hire more of them, consider hiring inexperienced technicians that can be quickly trained to complete software, electronics, and airbag repairs that don't require a master technician or a bay with a lift. And also consider changing your staffing strategy so it is not just a matter of hiring more inexperienced people for these tasks, but it can also help to allocate technicians appropriate to the repair at hand, in some cases freeing up a master tech. Even more promising for the dealership is the chance to recruit and nurture the next generation of technicians who want to earn significant income earlier in their careers.


Consumers come to your dealership to get a problem solved. Rather than being the one that says "No" what if you were the one that said "Yes?" Do you think that would make an impression on the customer? What happens when a customer has a good experience with a dealership? They tend to keep coming back! That can easily lead to future revenue for a service department albeit warranty, recall, or customer pay work. In addition, when it comes to recalls you have no competition from the independent facilities as they cannot do recall repairs


Showing a customer that you care, providing the service they want (and need), and ensuring that they leave the dealership feeling confident the vehicle they are driving is safe for them and their family, goes a long way towards building trust and customer loyalty. Your staff is an extension of your dealership. Provide a safe and healthy environment for recruits and it will show up in your service drive with consumers and in the quality of the work.


Let’s stop blaming staffing shortages for leaving consumers without solutions to their dangerous recalls. It’s going to take out-of-the-box strategies and a culture that attracts tomorrow’s talent.


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