Why Is It So Difficult to Find Good Mechanics?

There once was a famous garage owner who achieved fame as a NASCAR mechanic and engine builder. Self-educated, and a former military pilot, he was so brilliant that OEMs hired him as a technical consultant. But he eventually closed his garage, saying there were “no more good mechanics” to hire.

If you know the story, you recognize that as a popular quote attributed to Smokey Yunick. Despite Smokey’s complaint about good mechanics being hard to find, thousands of great techs have been repairing trucks and cars for decades since his lament. So, what was it that Smokey, despite his high level of intelligence, did not know?

Management is Succeeding Through Other People

As with many highly skilled people, Yunick did not understand how to get other people to ‘want to do what he wanted them to do.’ In a nutshell, that is the science of leadership, and a hallmark of good management skills. Let’s look at some common ways that shop owners create problems with techs.

Assigning Work Orders to the Wrong Skill Level

Wouldn’t it be nice if every tech you hired could do any repair on any vehicle you take in? Those days are long gone, given the complexity of today’s cars. Every tech you hire will have his or her strong areas as well as weak areas of talent. Mismatching work to skill level is a poor management practice that slows productivity. You breed frustration and lose good techs when you create work systems that mismatch human labor to tasks.

How can you tell which mechanical areas tech are good in, and identify the areas in which they have room to grow? Trial and error, with the resulting comebacks, is a lousy system for evaluating technician capabilities. The ASE eight basic CMAT exams area a better indicator of skill levels.

Have all your new hires take all eight ASE tests. Pay the test fees for them if you have to. Then use the results to match talent to repairs. Like a skilled military leader does, it is good practice to match your human resources to the tasks at hand. Make sense?

Having No Formal System Training in Place

If you can realize that your management decisions might be causing some of your technician problems, then you can take steps to eliminate the problem issues. Institute some weekly training. It could be as simple (and free) as finding articles and trade literature for your techs that shed light on their weak areas.

Many techs struggle with electrical and electronic systems. How about sending them to a local trade school at night for some classes in that?

An even greater benefit of training is that it makes your techs feel important and valuable. If you studied psychology in college, you know that all humans have an inner motivation to seek out recognition and appreciation. Recognize that as a valid need of theirs, then meet it, or lose techs. It’s your choice.

Not Providing the Information Needed to Repair Today’s Vehicles

Yes, repair information is expensive, but losing talented techs is much more harmful to your profits. If you investigate why comebacks and misdiagnoses are happening in your shop, you will find that the fault in many cases is a lack of relevant, complete and timely repair information.

People can tolerate only so many errors before they start looking for employment elsewhere. Then when you hire their replacement the problems start all over again for you. It’s better to attack the root of the problem directly. Smarter too.

Poor Soft Skills – Wasting Tech’s Talents

Face it, some of your customers would rather talk with the tech who will be working on their car than to discuss their mechanical issues with you. It’s normal. So, put aside your ego, and let your techs and your customers transact business more efficiently.

Identify those techs who are good at talking with clients, as well as those who are not. Allocate those soft skills when necessary, as situations present themselves. If you don’t do that, and insist that every piece of customer communication always flows through you, then you are creating a ‘bottleneck’ of communication. Miscommunications and trouble will follow. And you will eventually burn out from the stress.

Stop Punishing Your Techs

  • The flat-rate pay system is antiquated. If you want techs to commit 40 hours a week, or more, to your business than you have to commit some money to them in return. Yet few techs have any guarantee of minimal earnings in place.

As a manager, you have the responsibility to become skilled in marketing and advertising. It takes time and effort, to learn how to attract a steady stream of new customers to your shop. Penalizing techs, making them go without earnings when business is poor, is making them suffer for your lack of marketing skills. Think about it.

  • Every tech meets people socially. Do you have business cards printed for each tech, so he or she can proudly hand them out? It’s cheap advertising, and very profitable. Do you pay an enhanced commission when techs bring you new business like that? If you don’t pay your techs for that financial benefit, then they won’t give you the benefit of new business.
  • Are your shop’s work hours inflexible? Some techs would rather come to work an hour or two early, and then leave early to pick their children up from school. Likewise, other techs might have a difficult time dragging themselves to work on time every day, but would be very happy to work past normal closing times, if they had the choice.

Rather than forcing everybody to work on your personal schedule, why not accommodate them as reasonably as possible? If you’ve been thinking about having extended shop hours to facilitate more customers’ busy schedules, and to compete better in the market, this might give you the opportunity to do that.

Don’t Be Like Smokey

Good management means bringing out the best in each of your techs. That’s why it is called human capital, because their talents and willingness to work for you have monetary value. Don’t waste that capital..

Check out our article on how to keep technicians happy, loyal & productive

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