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5 Ways to Keep Technicians

Learn 5 things that can be done to keep technicians we have and attract new technicians to the industry.

Episode 118: There is a huge demographic problem facing the heavy-duty truck industry. More people are leaving, either because they are retiring and exiting the workforce, or they are going to other industries.

WrenchWay logo, and their goal and helping repair shops keep technicians.

Many repair shops are really feeling the pinch because of a shortage of repair technicians, and heavy-duty parts companies are having the same problem with parts technicians. Neither side of the independent service channel knows what can be done to keep technicians longer and to encourage new people to join the trucking industry.

In this episode, we had Jay Goninen, the Co-Founder and President at WrenchWay on the show to discuss with us 5 things repair shops and heavy-duty parts companies can do to help ensure that their technicians are happy, and to help limit the effects of this technician shortage.


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Complete Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You’re listening to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And this is the show where you get expert advice about heavy-duty parts that keeps trucks and trailers on the road longer while lowering cost per mile.

Did you know that every Friday we go live at 10:00 AM, MTN, 12 PM EST? You can follow us on YouTube, Facebook, or LinkedIn to watch our live broadcasts, but you can also head over to heavydutypartsreport.com to check out the replays of our live presentations.

Today on the podcast I’d like to share with you one of the live interviews that we’ve done recently, because I thought that it was something that would be of interest to you. I hope you enjoy this replay of a live interview we did not that long ago.

Today we are going to be talking about a subject that has really been something that over the last couple months, people, especially the repair technicians who have been following the Heavy-Duty Parts Report have expressed a lot of opinions about, and they have shared their opinions about whether or not there is a repair technician shortage.

If there is a shortage, which I think most of us can agree there is, then I think where the disagreement comes in is what’s causing it and what to do about it.

So today we are going to talk about how to keep technicians longer. And my guest today is Jay Goninen and he’s the co-founder and president at WrenchWay. He’s here to help us to talk about a retention strategy, a solution to whatever is causing us to not be able to find enough technicians and to not be able to retain them in our industry.

So I am so happy to have Jay here with us, bringing him from backstage, Jay, welcome to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So happy to have you here.

Jay Goninen:

Really, really happy to be here and love everything that you do Jamie.

Jamie Irvine:

Thanks, Jay. I really appreciate that. So let’s get to it. How much does it cost a shop to hire and train a technician? Let’s establish the economic impact of this issue that our industry is facing.

Jay Goninen:

Yeah, I think it’s kind of twofold, right? And when I say that first and foremost, you’re looking for a technician for a reason, right?

There’s if you’ve got open bay in the shop, quick math, if you have a hundred dollars an hour labor rate, 40 hours a week, four grand a week and 16 grand a month, that bay, whenever that’s sitting open, that you’re losing out on missed revenue opportunity.

On the other side of that, the pain and suffering that goes into looking for a technician. There’s a lot that goes into it, right?

So anything from the posting of jobs, if the manager’s doing the posting, I think at times we undervalue what a manager’s worth, especially the people. If you’re a manager yourself, you undervalue what your value per hour is. So when you start to look at it, you’re looking into the tens of thousands of dollars for finding that good hire.

And that’s not to mention that, you know, I think with Sherm, they talk about the average cost of hire an employee is $4,129 with around 42 days to fill a position. I got a note right here and I think our industry one, I think it costs more, the impact is higher, but it takes longer to find a person to, it’s not something like the old days, 20, 30 years ago, where you just put an ad out and have a bunch of people come to it.

It really is, it’s expensive. It’s really, really expensive. And it hurts.

Jamie Irvine:

So let’s just recap that. So at least $4,000 and over a month, but in you’re saying, it could be longer than that. So maybe it could be six or $8,000 and a couple of months to find someone.

So that’s the direct costs of hiring, but that the cost of not being able to fill that position is exponentially higher because of all those factors you just brought in, lost revenue, potentially not just the loss revenue of that bay, but the loss of customers, because you just can’t get to them fast enough and they leave and go somewhere else. And then there’s all those administrative costs.

And most times the repair shop is owned by a private individual and they’re not valuing their time enough. This is a big problem. This is costing shops. It’s costing fleets too, because I hear constantly from fleets where they’re saying, we just can’t get our equipment repaired fast enough. And that’s why they’re just trying to avoid unscheduled downtime like it is the financial plague.

So if this is such a big problem, and like I said in the intro, I’ve got people who follow the show that are repair technicians. And they’re saying, is there even a repair technician shortage?

Because it seems like all the equipment still gets fixed, but like we just said not fast enough and on the other side, okay, there is a repair technician shortage, now there seems to be a big argument about what the cause is. So from your perspective, what are the most common reasons for a technician to leave a repair shop?

Jay Goninen:

That is there’s a variety of different reasons, right? And one of the concerns that we’ve got as a whole are not only technicians leaving from one shop to go to another, but really technicians leaving the industry as a whole. And so when we look at that side of it and look at why that happens, one, I think a lot of it comes back to management, right?

If they don’t feel like they’re being led in a nice manner or they don’t feel like they’re being managed by a leader that can have a big impact on somebody in a lot of shops. It’s funny because we will take a lot of times the best technician and move them into the role of a manager, but they are two completely different jobs.

So even though they might’ve been excelled at this one job, they haven’t had the training or experience on the leadership side, but a lot of times as managers or owners of a company, you’ll just say, okay, you’re out, come on in, you’re managing the shop now. And what they don’t get is that you’re managing personalities.

And, you know, rather than just focusing on that one bay, you’re focused on a variety of different bays and how you keep the workflow going and everything like that. So I think at the core of it, I think that’s got a lot to do with some of the struggles that we have as an industry.

But then, you know, I think it’s a tough job, right? And I think from the heavy-duty side of things, we’ve gotten better with the tooling and a shop giving them the tools. They need to be able to lift heavy things and giving them training on how to do it in an efficient way so that it’s not as stressful, but it can still be heavy parts. It can be greasy, oily still.

I know a lot of our stuff is moving a little bit more to that electrical side, but they’re heavy, heavy machines, heavy pieces of equipment, whatever you’re working on. And so it as a whole is a tough job. And I think we’ve tried to glorify that side of being a technician a little bit and almost to a fault because I think when a tech gets in and they see that it’s really, really hard work it can be kind of a deterrent from being able to continue the profession.

And then the other piece that we’re seeing more and more is kind of as a result of that, our technicians that see some of those things I just mentioned, and they want to be able to lift up their grandkids when they get older, right? Like their bodies get beat up. And it’s really a struggle from that standpoint too.

And being able to know that maybe there is an advancement opportunity or there are other opportunities in the industry. And I’ve seen just a whole bunch of really, really good techs that have refined their craft so much that they’re able to work their way up through the industry.

But having that core level, that core technical ability was really the foundation of everything. So, you know, I think just being able to know that there are opportunities to move forward.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back. Would you like to advertise on the Heavy-Duty Parts Report? Head over to heavydutypartsreport.com/contact and fill out the form. Spots are limited and on a first come first serve basis. I think we touched on so many things there that the physical toll, the working conditions, the shop has to be tooled correctly.

I remember visiting a shop, not that long ago and the owner was so, he was so disheartened. He said it’s so expensive to hire someone and then if you have to train them, there’s such a long tail and it’s such a big cost.

And in Canada, we have a four red seal program where people go to school for six weeks and then they apprentice for the rest of the year. And after four years they get their ticket and then they can become a heavy duty mechanics, a little different than in the states.

So he was saying, I go to all this effort, I’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the shop to make it as good of a working conditions as possible and I just can’t pay the technicians enough to keep them from leaving, going to the municipality, going to the mine that was nearby.

And then they’re not even repairing vehicles anymore. Half the time they end up driving a rock truck at a mine and making eight or $10 an hour more in a much more comfortable working conditions where they’re not out in the elements and they’re in this air conditioned or heated in the winter cab of a rock truck. And they’re just driving up and down the mine road.

And he said, I’m so frustrated because I put all this effort and then I lose them. And then the other complaint I constantly hear is I put all this effort on the independent side to train this person, get them up to speed and then they go to work for the dealership. And so retention is, I think this is part of it.

And what concerns me the most is it’s one thing to have to have people moving laterally in the industry, it’s another to have them leave altogether. So what’s the retention strategy that you recommend? And let’s just really focus on that independent repair shop or that fleet that is doing their own repairs, is not a dealership, it’s self-funded, it’s people, who’s got their own money into the business.

They’re trying to make their business grow. How are we going to keep technicians in the industry? Because if we can’t keep them adding more people is not going to help us because we have more people falling out the back end than we’ve got coming in the front end, which I believe is what’s going on right now.

Jay Goninen:

Yeah. And I equate that to, and I say this quite a bit in our content, but almost like a sinking boat, right? You’re trying to get a bunch of people into a sinking boat and we can’t, we have to be able to seal up our boat before we try to get more people in.

The one thing I would say there, and the example that you used is really, I think, common amongst especially independent shops, we see it a lot, I grew up in an independent shop, so very familiar with that space. And I think the funny part to me is, I don’t think they have a wage problem, I think they have a profitability problem, right? And when I say that the wage, the market is the market, right?

Whatever the going rate for a technician is what you’re going to have to pay. So then rather than trying to attack that, or really figure out how you get really good techs at that lower wage, maybe try to attack the profitability side of the business and look at ways that you can increase your profitability, whether that’s getting a coach or implementing KPIs of process in general, but really able to work on your business rather than in your business. It sounds super cliche, but it’s so, so important.

But that’s one thing that I see is shops that really struggle to grasp how much the wages have gone up for a technician. And for me, I wouldn’t be as focused on that side as I would be about the profitability side, because if you are a profitable shop, you should be able to pay that market, that rate of what a normal technician is going for right now, and it is high, right?

Like, but rarely do I see shops struggling to get work right? And it’s funny because I go back and I’m like, you know, how much are you spending on your marketing to customers when you already have a full shop? And you’re struggling to keep up there?

Why not pivot a little bit and try to really focus on marketing to those technicians and trying to get your shop in order. And if that means that you have to raise your labor rate, I think it’s justified. And I do think as an industry, we’re probably a touch low. And especially as you look at us compared to other trades, we’re probably on the low end, as far as what we’re charging per hour. And I think that’s where a lot of the frustration stems from in all honesty,

Jamie Irvine:

That makes a lot of sense to me. On the parts side, we have the same problem. I was always baffled by management’s decision to say that salesperson is making more than our executives. We have to change the way that we compensate that salesperson. What are you talking about? Who cares?

Your salespeople should all be the highest paid people that you’re in your parts business. Because if they’re making lots of money, the company’s making lots of money. It’s the same with the repair side of the business. Okay. Pay your technicians 15% more. They make you money. So the more technicians you have, the more output they give you, the more money you should be making.

Heck you should be trying to give your technicians a 30% raise because that should be directly correlated to the profitability of the business. And if it’s not to your point, there’s something wrong with the business model.

Jay Goninen:

Yeah. I had a consultant once telling me that everything’s really just a math problem when it gets down to it. Right. And I always remembered that because I think that’s the same thing here is that you shouldn’t strive to be middle of the pack when it comes to wages and not only wages, but benefits and the way that the shop looks and the how clean it is strive to be in that upper tier.

And if that means that you’re bringing a premium rate, I’m still confident you’re going to bring work in. If you really, if you’re paying above average, you have an above average shop and an above average culture, a good place to work, right? I’m very, very confident that you’re going to be able to justify that increase in labor rate.

Jamie Irvine:

So if you’re in a situation where you’ve got some customers that refuse to pay more, and then you enact your plan and raise your standards, what’s going to happen is those customers who refuse to pay more, are going to leave.

And they’re going to be replaced by customers who value the high standards of your shop, the excellent technicians that you have, the output, the quality of your work. And they’re going to gladly pay a bit more because let’s not forget what the real cost is for fleets, it’s unscheduled downtime. So if you can manage that and help the fleet to have their equipment on the road longer and to extend service intervals, they’re not going anywhere else.

They’re going to keep coming back because those customers value the things that make your shop great. And all the people who don’t, you don’t want to do business with anyway. And let’s be honest, those people who don’t value those things, they’re probably not paying you on time either.

Jay Goninen:

I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule, right? And I believe that 20% of your clients, and I think it’s probably less than that, probably 10% of your clients equal 90% of your business. And if you can really cater to them, and I think they value quality, right? And they value if you look at paying higher wages and truly, I use this phrase in a lot of different scenarios, but if you become a destination shop rather than just another stop along the way, and your goal is to become that destination type shop, you’re going to draw a better people.

You’re going to draw better customers because you know, not everybody’s going to want to pay that higher rate, but is that the worst thing in the world? No, because maybe your collections start to go down and I think there’s just so many benefits to that type of a business. And I think that’s what helps create a really, really good place to work at too.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.

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If you’re focusing on the shop, you’re improving the internal systems you’re making, you’re raising the standards of the shop, your raising wages for good technicians, this retention strategy, this overall kind of holistic view of the business.

How does that impact finding new people down the road? Because eventually you’re going to need to replace someone who’s retiring or you’re going to have more customers and you’re going to have to find new techs. So how does getting your shops house in order impact finding new technicians in the future?

Jay Goninen:

It’s funny because we’ve actually had clients that they’re not focused on retention. They’re not focused on creating a great shop. And what I tell them is even before you have a recruiting strategy or plan to go out and find new talent, take care of your own.

And when I say that, some of the funny scenarios that we see are that shop owner or manager that might’ve assumed they knew what the market was for technicians and what they could pay and what benefits they could offer, all of that fun stuff, when they start to see techs that they’re recruiting come in and they’re demanding more money than what their top technician in their shop is already making, or they’re demanding more things than what their top tech is.

A lot of times they’ll say I’m not paying them more than my current tech, but what that should do is be a red flag to say, I got to go to work on my internal team because I guarantee there’s people looking at them, trying to get them to go to their shop. And so if to me that is such a big red flag for a shop manager or owner is to, to see that and acknowledge that that, Hey, you know what, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard that somebody that has a lower skill set than my best person is asking for more money.

And it’s not just a pipe dream, they’re going to get paid that amount of money. So act accordingly, try to try to make sure that your team is loyal and don’t abuse that loyalty either right? We hear from techs all the time where they’ll go in and say, you know what? I put my two weeks notice that I’m going to X shop. And then the shop will counter and say, well, we’ll pay you five, six, $10 an hour more to stay. And then that tech almost feels burned, right? Like how long has this person been milking me out of this money?

And so, you know, rather than doing that, having good relationships with your people and, and treating them like people, right? I think a lot of times we put technicians into one bucket and assume they all like the same things. And they’re all the same person. When in reality, they’re just, they’re unique individuals like all of us, right. I started off as a technician and it’s truly that acknowledgement.

Not everybody values money in the same. What does that person value? Maybe it’s schedule flexibility. Maybe they need health insurance and they need really good health insurance. Being able to really understand what that is. And, and again, if you’re trying to create a destination shop, those are the things that you have to think about. And it, to me, any recruiting strategy that you have that doesn’t have a good retention strategy already in place is building it on a shaky foundation. And that’s not a good way to go about it.

Jamie Irvine:

Jay, when you were a repair technician and you were working in an independent shop, you didn’t have the resources that a technician who works at a dealership did. How much networking did you do to be able to get access to the information you needed to be a good repair tech? You probably did a lot of it because you were independent.

Jay Goninen:

Yeah. The funny part about me was I was a terrible technician. So it’s funny to me that there’s extra strain on an independent tech, right? And the reason is, and this isn’t getting easier, right? Because the amount of different systems that are coming in on the heavy duty side, you’ve got the different emission systems, the DPFs, different everything, everybody’s got a different way of going about it.

So being able to know different systems, understanding how they operate, understanding of why something happens, why regeneration has to happen anything like that is a big deal. So that puts extra strain on a technician and in an independent shop, but being able to know where to go I think is a big deal.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, I want to stop you right there. Because I was, I have a specific point I wanted to make needing the independents, need to have that network to just survive because they don’t have access to all of the infrastructure and training that the people who work at dealerships do that means that means that they’re talking. They know what the situations are in other shops. And so if you create that destination shop, guess what? Your techs are going to be the people who are going to do all the marketing for you.

They’re going to tell all their colleagues in the area about how great it is. That’s going to attract new technicians to your door. Conversely, virtually the other way is true. If your shop sucks, they’re going to tell everybody, you’re going to be repelling people and you’re going to be going, why can I never seem to find a good tech?

Jay Goninen:

Yeah. I mean, it starts all the way back at tech school, right? Or techs tend to hang out with techs. I think it’s just people that like to work with their hands like to hang out together and they talk. We’ve had conversations. I’ve had conversations with shop owners where they think the reputation is different than what the technicians perceive it as. And we’re hearing it from a ton of technicians and then being able to go back to the shop, we get fought on it.

But the shop’s like, no, that’s not that we have good management. And I’m like, well, you’re the manager, of course you think you have good management. It truly is, if you don’t look in the mirror and just understand where your faults are and what the true perception is, not what you think is, but the true perception amongst techs, you’re going to have a really, really tough time with this.

Jamie Irvine:

Hey, listen, I’m the best podcaster in the world. But I recently hired a podcast coach just to double-check and make sure I was the best and I found out I was doing a bunch of things wrong and needed to make some changes.

So I guess maybe I’m not the best of the world yet. We all suffer from that little bit of our perspective, right? It’s impossible to escape our own perspective less unless we get outside perspectives. And unless we listen to those and that can be so hard to do, my wife will tell you, I’m not most coachable person in the world.

Jay Goninen:

Yeah, but it is so important, right? And I think that’s where the mindset of having a destination shop comes into play, because that truly is saying, hey, we’re here today, we want to get to where we are that destination shop. We need to listen. We need to be coached. We need to open our mind to, again, another cliche thing, but thinking outside the box, what can we do to accommodate these really, really in demand technicians?

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah. Well, if you’re looking for help, you’re listening to this right now, you’re looking for help on the marketing side of your business. I’m your guy. Give me a call. But if you’re looking for help on the technician side of your business, Jay’s your man.

Now, Jay, tell us what your company does for repair shops. How do you help both with the hiring of technicians and how do you help repair shops with that? So I think you help both sides of the equation. Tell us a little bit about your company.

Jay Goninen:

Yeah. The platform in itself and that’s kind it’s a way to bring people together, right? And so when we say that shops are really able to tell their story of why they’re a good place to work at. So each shop gets that has a WrenchWay top shops page goes into a great bit of transparency.

We talk about pay, we talk about benefits and we don’t just say you get all of these off, it’s which holidays or what’s the insurance what’s the insurance situation who pays for what, and what’s the difference between employer, employee, but we’re trying to promote transparency in the sense that you really want to be able to give that technician an idea of what they’re signing up for.

So on that side it’s really a straightforward page. We have video, photos of the shop almost like we equate it a lot of times to what Zillow is to housing, right? It’s really a way for a technician to do their due diligence on a shop.

On the other side of that, we’ve got an app, a WrenchWay app that’s free to technicians. And essentially we asked them, again, the listening piece, we asked them what they like about the industry, what they don’t like. We do some prizes and some games, we give away a hundred dollar gift card every week. And then they have a chance to play our queen of hearts game, which is now up to $2,400.

Somebody won it down in North Carolina here a few months ago, and now it’s back up to that already. So, and then on the something we just introduced about a month, month and a half ago is something we call reverse job postings. And with reverse job postings, a tech on the app can fill out a profile and it’s a blind profile, it’s almost like a dating app for a tech, right? It doesn’t say their name or where they work. And it gives a lot of information on their work history. There it’d be really experience in general.

They don’t have to put their name or where they’ve worked, it talks about their education certifications. And then it talks about what they need in a shop or what they want in a shop. And then shops essentially apply to talk to them. And so that’s come together and been a really, really cool tool that we’ve seen some great conversations on. And ultimately that’s what we’re trying to do is to get people talking and really hopefully make matches. So we put the best people in the best spots. And I think at the end of the day, that’s what we’re doing.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been watching the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine today we’ve been live. And we’ve been speaking with Jay Goninen, co-founder and president at WrenchWay. If you want to join this amazing community for technicians and repair shops, really bringing people together, go to wrenchway.com, links are in the show notes. Jay, thank you so much for being my guest today. I really appreciate it.

Jay Goninen:

Thank you so much for having me. It’s been all my pleasure. This is great.

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