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258796626 Dreamstime Happy Tech

Shop owners share keys to keeping technicians happy

April 20, 2023
On a webinar hosted by Fullbay, shop owners talked about tech pay and job satisfaction, along with how to tell you hire high-value workers.

Though labor shortages persist, heavy-duty repair shop revenue is climbing back to pre-pandemic levels, according to shop management software provider Fullbay's 2023 State of Heavy-Duty Repair report.

In 2021, shops across continental North America averaged 34% revenue growth from 2020. In 2022, shops grew an additional 19% on average, seeing a steady growth after recovering from the pandemic.

As revenues rise and shops are eager to gain and maintain a strong staff, challenges arise on how to pay technicians well while making sure they have the skills to justify their compensation.

Fullbay’s survey of industry stakeholders also looked into the average hourly raises current technicians received in 2022 and found that shops employing the lowest number of techs also handed out the smallest raises: $3.10 per hour increase. For larger shops—with 41 or more techs— hourly rates increased by an average of $8.20. Last year, the Southeast region of the U.S. led the way, with techs earning an average of $89,000 per year (pre-tax) and the Midwest in last place at $68,000 per year (pre-tax).

In light of the report’s findings, Fullbay CEO Patrick McKittrick and COO Chris O'Brien sat down with two repair shop owners for a webinar on the challenges and successes they’ve experienced in recent years.

Jennifer Callaway, co-owner of Inland Empire Fleet Maintenance, and Henry Uribe, owner of Onsite Truck and Equipment Repair, offered insight into how they determine wages and their hiring process, not only considering labor shortages but also recognizing what each prospective employee brings to the table.

How to show technicians you value them

Callaway said it all comes down to company culture when it comes to keeping techs satisfied. Everyone in the small shop of six is on a first name basis with each other, and management has an open-door policy to talk about any workplace issues. She noted the shop atmosphere is often light due to “a bunch of ‘American Idols’ in my shop, all singing to their own stuff.”

Pay is of course the key reason employees show up, but Callaway said that work should not feel like a grind.

"You want them to enjoy coming to work and you want them to have good reasons for coming to work,” she said. “Unfortunately they live paycheck to paycheck, so they really need their jobs, but they shouldn't feel like, ‘I gotta come in and I gotta do this and I gotta do that.’ They should want to come to work.”

Callaway noticed that wages weren’t the only concerns plaguing workers amid inflation and an unstable economy. She said fear is driving technicians to forego their own businesses and apply for positions in companies that provide a stable income and job security.

“About 75% of our applicants this year have all been guys that have been entrepreneurs,” she said. “[They] went out on their own and now they either have a wife and a new baby or they're scared that it's going to get harder for them to maintain what they're doing. They want the comfort of working for a company.”

Uribe believes improving employee satisfaction is about helping his employees achieve their goals while they are helping the company stay profitable. He said a good technician is going save you money and make the shop money.  

“Yes, they pay for themselves,” he said. “If you have the work, they're free. They're going to generate more sales. If you have a good team, you pay your team real well. You're making money and they're making money.”

Uribe said wages were raised throughout all their companies because they are starting to see how the economy is affecting their employees.

How to ensure techs provide value to you

If you’re going to foster a hospitable workplace and provide techs with a competitive wage, you should make sure workers hold up their end of the bargain. And that starts with the hiring process.

Callaway screens potential employees using the JOBehaviors assessment, a predictive hiring tool that measures good behavioral characteristics of a technician on a one-to-five star scale.

“It's not necessarily about the skill of being a diesel mechanic but about having the behaviors of being a good diesel mechanic,” she said. "[Are you] organized in your work area? Things like that. So, we pre-screen with that. I've hired everybody—one stars, two stars, three stars, four stars—I've hired them all just to see.”

California, where Callaway operates, requires pay scales to be made public. Because of this transparency she said there’s a precedent set on pay scale and a pay range that takes into consideration work on a variety of different types of motors, manufacturers and equipment.

When looking at what pay scale a technician should receive, Callaway asks a few questions to determine their level of competence and skill:

  • What's the variety of experience?
  • How far inside of an engine have they been?
  • What's their experience working on drivetrains?

When hiring new technicians, Callaway said it’s about what they know, what they have experienced in a shop and the time that they have been doing it.

“Sometimes you don't actually get that out of an interview—how experienced a person really is,” she said. “They may have 10 years of working, but how much experience did they get? You know, it'd be really cool if there was like the ultimate mechanic test to really test a person.”

Uribe said that while he does take a look at a potential hire’s resume and years of experience, he uses the interview process to determine their skill level, and looks for specific body language to indicate their confidence level working on a truck.

“Let’s pretend there's a truck in front of us,” he will tell the job candidate. “Walk me through step-by-step on how you're going to do this job.”

A good technician, Uribe argued, will demonstrate a “photographic memory” and be able to see the task in their head, and Uribe will be able to see the cognitive wheels turning through their body language.

This gives him an immediate idea of their skill.

“That's why I interview right off the bat,” Uribe said.

He sets out to discover whether heavy-duty vehicle repair work is just a job passing through or a life-long career for each prospective technician.

“A person that has a job clocks in, does their thing. ‘Man, I can't wait till lunchtime,’” he said. “A person that has a career, they are a craftsman. They want to make sure they have pride in that product. They put their name on it.”

About the Author

Cris Beaulieu

Cris Beaulieu is an Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. She joined the team after working in local news media. She earned a bachelor’s in journalism at Cleveland State University along with a TV and Radio Broadcast degree at Ohio Media School.