June 20, 2022, Overland Park, Kansas – Ninety-five percent of automotive service, heavy-duty/diesel and collision repair businesses agree: the technician shortage is here, and it is severe.
There are precisely ZERO skilled technicians wandering the streets asking themselves, “Where will I possibly find a job?” You can poach from your competitors – which you’re probably doing already, while your competition is simultaneously poaching from you. This does not add a single new person to the technician workforce.
In the heavy-duty/diesel industry, there is an expected need of at least 32,831 new technicians for 2023 alone. Poaching technicians is nothing more than musical chairs and cannot fill the need.
Alternatively, you can actively recruit and convince career tech students that you are the right first employer to launch their career.
But what happens when those students enter the industry? According to research from the ASE Education Foundation, 42% of career tech graduates will leave the industry altogether within their first two years.
The one sustainable competitive advantage is to implement a systematic and repeatable technical mentoring and apprenticeship program. Want to prove to young techs that your business is the right one for them? Being able to tell an entry-level technician (and their instructors) that you have a written mentoring program and career path sets you apart from everyone else.
“Vehicle technology is growing exponentially. Entry-level technicians need an employer who is ready, willing, and able to train and prepare them for the industry,” says Lirel Holt, CEO of Mentor Mentee. “Creating your own pipeline of technicians will differentiate the good shops from those that are going to be left behind as experienced technicians retire at an ever-increasing pace.”
Here are 7 tips to give you the best chance of implementing a successful mentoring program:
1. Prove to your local CTE instructors that you are for real. Anyone can tell an instructor they have a mentoring program. Invite them out to your shop and show them how you will continue to enhance a young technician’s understanding, further the instructor’s training efforts, and how you develop a plan specific to each student. The rest of your competition will call up the instructor begging for their ‘best student,’ while you’re showing the instructor how you are committed to launching their students’ careers. Now who’s getting the best students?!
2. Get buy-in and understanding from staff and ownership before implementing a technical mentoring or apprentice program. Seventy percent of workplace initiatives fail due to lack of leadership commitment. If you are going to build an on-the-job training program, communicate with all stakeholders early on, get all staff to understand that there is a plan and why they should be on board. Without buy-in, staff can undermine the goal. Show them how mentoring programs create upward momentum for the business, which benefits all staff.
3. Have two plans for each mentee: long-term (what you can become) and short-term (what you’ll do daily to get there). Sell a career vision to a mentee and set realistic expectations along the way. Show – in writing – to the entry-level technician where they can go and how you will help them get there. Everyone wants to know, “What’s the plan?” Don’t forget: A plan is not a plan unless it is in writing!
4. Use a task list. This is the best way to put your day-to-day plan in writing. Many programs will start without direction or standard duties. The program’s manager and mentors should identify 30 to 50 tasks for a mentee to focus on from the beginning. Be sure to include often-overlooked items like safety, vehicle placement in bays and soft skills. Do you still have to work with what is coming in the door each day? Of course! But with a task list, both the Mentor and Mentee are looking for opportunities to work on the core, foundational tasks in front of them.
5. Track training progress against the task list. Whether you use paper, Excel, or a total software solution, it is essential to track task progress to understand what task areas mentees are winning, losing, and needing more exposure. Mentors and Mentees should work together to track the number of repetitions a Mentee has on each task, as well as their quantitative and qualitative improvement in time and quality of each task performed.
6. Use the mentee’s progress data to celebrate wins and offer incentives. You can’t do #6 if you don’t do #5! When a mentee develops a new skill, publicly point it out and celebrate. Provide incentives for Mentors and Mentees to reach their goals. These can be monetary or non-monetary incentives. Small efforts to recognize their success as a team, and to celebrate those with the whole staff builds positive feedback loops, and keeps your whole staff engaged in the success of your program.
7. Do not allow bullying. Celebrate successes, but when a Mentee makes a mistake, provide constructive feedback in private. The same goes for Mentors. And do not allow anyone in the shop to bully a young tech. The days of hazing a young technician when they make a mistake are gone. As a society, we have made bullying an unacceptable practice in school. Why would you allow it in your shop? Bullying only makes it look like management doesn’t really care about the success of their own trainees or program.
The shortage is real and will continue. But while the rest of the industry faces staff shortages, a successful mentoring program can dramatically increase your odds of success.
Mentoring and apprenticeships have worked for thousands of years, and there are new ways to implement these programs without having to reinvent the wheel. If you can implement these seven tips, you can give new life to your business’ technician recruiting and retention efforts!
Mentor Mentee (mentormentee.com) provides a systematic mentoring toolset that shops can tailor to their specific needs. Marc Brune serves as Business Development Manager for Mentor Mentee and helps auto service, collision, and heavy-truck businesses implement mentoring and apprenticeship programs to grow their own technicians. firstname.lastname@example.org