Why Employee Retention in Service Is More Important Than Ever

A recent Automotive News article covered the decrease in trained automotive service technicians graduating from vocational schools. Not only are the vocational schools producing fewer graduates in the automotive repair field, but the training they receive is dated. Many vocational schools cannot afford the high tech equipment that today’s modern vehicles demand. This results in students that are ill equipped to smoothly transition from school to a career as a technician.  Additionally, according to the article, some OEM training programs also “aren’t providing enough updated, hands-on training.”


On the flip side, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting an increase of 9 percent in the automotive repair sector from 2012 to 2022. Given that demand is expected to increase and, at the same time, schools are producing less qualified students, dealerships need to start thinking about steps they can take to ensure retention of the trained technicians they DO have.


In many fields where a shortage of workers exists, businesses find that they are forced to either lure workers away from competitors, or hire less qualified employees. In many stores, the service department accounts for a majority of the dealership’s revenue. The last thing any dealership needs is to open itself up to is increased liability for poorly completed repairs or dissatisfied customers due to long wait times or repairs not fixed right the first time.


Here are a few things that can be done to improve employee retention:


  1. Ensure that employees know what you expect from them. Many employers don’t adequately explain the tasks and productivity expected.
  2. Ensure and demand that managers are involved with all employees. Hold regular meetings with them individually and as a group to gain feedback and hear grievances.
  3. While many dealers say that they have an “open door policy,” not all employees will feel comfortable sharing feedback with their direct supervisors. If possible, provide a neutral third party which employees can communicate with anonymously to express concerns.
  4. Make continuous training and development a priority. It is paramount to ensure that employees stay up-to-date with rapidly changing and increasingly complex automotive technology. Staff development also illustrates to your employees that you value them and want them to improve.
  5. Incentivize employees through spiffs and contests. This provides a goal for employees and helps to keep them engaged, while increasing production. This applies to both sales and service personnel.
  6. When management positions become available, make sure to look internally for potential candidates before seeking a new employee. Otherwise you could run the risk that an excellent employee leaves due to feeling that your dealership will not provide advancement opportunities for them.


The need for experienced technicians is only going to increase while the pool of available workers decreases. Keeping your current employees happy is much less expensive than replacing them. Especially when there isn’t anybody to replace them with.


Don’t get left empty-handed in your service drive. 

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Comment by Bernard London on May 23, 2014 at 2:37pm

Richard. Good post. I do have a couple of comments.

It seems a lot of dealers have been aware of this concern but have been going through the day with blinders on. Many of them seem reluctant to see this as a very serious problem that is getting worse and worse as time goes on.

In my experience as a manger, trainer and consultant I have observed that a lot of the issues come down from top management (GMs in particular) who have very little knowledge of what it takes to become a true technician. (In fact many have very little knowledge of fixed operations in general). A lot of GMs and even some service managers think that you can hire a crew of "quick lube" talent and they will automatically grow into technicians. It doesn't work that way.

My business is based in Washington State and there used to be a very active high school program where students could join an "automotive" class and this led to a pool of (possible) candidates.Those programs were cut years ago. There are some skill centers and community colleges offering entry courses but the value of the "education" in many instances is somewhat outdated.

There has always been (and still remains) a "stigma" about the automotive repair industry. (If you can't find a good job or successful career you can always go into automotive??) 

So what is the fix?

How do we get students and already qualified technicians to join and support the dealer body?

How do we impress on job seekers that entering the world of automotive technology and repair can be as rewarding as starting a business to fix your grandmothers computer?

Dealers and recruiters have to start building up and "talking up" the profession. They have to impress on job seekers and applicants the virtues and possible financial gains to be had from becoming a successful technician.

Some of the negatives that have to be overcome: (There are quite a few) and need to have open discussion NOW! 

Modifications to the flat rate system.

The tool expense.

The need to feel wanted.

The need to be part of the "business".

The need to be motivated by intrinsic drivers rather than the "carrot and stick".

The need to overcome the "grease monkey" stigma.

The need to be compensated fairly so that money is not a key driver to their success. (Intrinsic motivation again)

The need to impress on technicians the value of there skill and expertise equals and exceeds that of most computer technicians.

Bring back indentured apprenticeship programs and support mentoring on the job, coordinating with colleges and trade schools.

Full disclosure on the part of the hiring manager as to what exactly the job entails (job description?)and a clear outline of the path to progression (through the ranks) highlighting progress points along the way.

Make available paths of promotion for the future. After all, some aspects of an automotive technician can be physically demanding for a "senior" employee.


I could go on and on.

There is a lot of work to be done if we are to grow our technical staff.

If dealers do not wake up and start doing something now, it is inevitable that their businesses will be negatively affected.

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