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Rock’s Rants: No Respect

by Ken Rock, Customer Care Manager

It’s no secret there’s a big service technician shortage, but do you know why? It’s not because young people aren’t interested in becoming technicians. The problem is that most service technicians say they wouldn’t recommend their job to a friend or relative, and one-quarter of technicians say they plan to leave their jobs in the next few years.

These findings were revealed earlier this year in the latest Technician Survey by Carlisle & Co. Overall, the survey revealed deep job dissatisfaction among technicians. Their biggest complaints were flat-rate pay plans and poor communications with service advisors.

Unfortunately, I’m not the least bit surprised by the survey results. In my current position I see first-hand what happens in service departments. In most dealerships, being a service technician is a thankless job.

Let’s break down the reasons why and what can be done to change the situation.

Pay Plans

Undoubtedly, flat-rate pay hurts technicians. First of all, the amount of pay that a technician gets for a job is determined by a service advisor. If you have at least one service advisor who is weak or incompetent (or both), they routinely sell jobs for less than the flat-rate pay. So, instead of getting paid 2.5 hours for a 2.5-hour job, the technician only gets paid 1.8 hours. Essentially, they’re forced to work for free.

The worst part is that nobody cares or addresses the problem, which is usually the fault of a service advisor or manager and not the technician.

This friction probably contributes to the “poor communications with service advisors” cited in the survey. Let’s face it, the average parts department manager is stubborn about discounting prices for parts. So, for the service advisor who desperately wants to sell a job, the only thing left to do is discount the labor—and the technician gets shafted.

To add insult to injury, technicians don’t get paid enough. The Carlisle & Co. survey cited the average annual pay for a technician as $61,000. Wow, that is nothing for a job that requires a high level of skill, long hours and requires years of education and experience. These days you can barely live on $60,000 and it’s impossible to raise a family on that amount. In my opinion, technicians are worth at least $100,000.

Maybe you believe that technicians aren’t worth more than $60,000 a year. To me, you are like the person who goes to a steak house and orders a hamburger, then complains because the hamburger doesn’t taste like prime steak.

If you’re worried that paying technicians what they’re worth will cut into your profits, don’t be. There are plenty of ways to increase fixed ops profitability. Just ask me, I’ll give you a long list of strategies. Skimping on pay should never be one of them.

In my opinion, it’s time to get rid of flat-rate pay plans and pay your technicians what they’re worth, or at least guarantee them a minimum 35 or 40 hours per week.

Second-Class Citizens

The other issue I have seen is that in some dealerships, technicians are treated like second-class citizens. On weekends, lunch is often brought in for the sales team. Nobody thinks of bringing lunch in for the technicians.

Yet, technicians are responsible for generating 49 percent of the average dealership’s gross profits, which is basically the same as the sales team.

Technicians are highly educated, highly skilled workers. It takes a lot of time, money and effort to learn the trade and then even more money to buy a set of tools. Additionally, techs are doing more diagnostic work and research in order to repair a car, which the factory doesn’t even recognize them for.

No wonder technicians get discouraged, want out of the business and wouldn’t recommend their job to a friend.  In most dealerships, they do not get the respect they deserve.

I know this is not the case in every dealership. Some dealers get it. They are changing pay plans, improving work conditions and investing in training and tools because they realize that the more money their technicians make, the more technicians they’ll attract and retain, and the more money they, the dealer, will ultimately make.

The secret to keeping techs happy is simple. Treat them with respect. Ask them if they’re happy, and if they’re not, ask they why. Go to bat for them. Change their pay plans and encourage them to take their paid vacations.

Take the time to identify service advisors who routinely discount labor rates. Offer these advisors additional training and revise their incentives until they stop this behavior.

I’m guessing that most technicians love what they do, they just don’t love where they’re doing it or what they’re getting paid for it. But a little respect may go a long way towards improving their job satisfaction.

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