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WrenchWay webinar reflects on tech shortage challenges

Aug. 9, 2023
Company leaders outlined some of the industry's barriers to solving the technician shortage in a recent July webinar and discussed what they see as the industry's future.

Now that WrenchWay has reached its third anniversary of working to stem the technician shortage, the company that pairs technicians with shops celebrated the milestone with a webinar in early July. WrenchWay’s co-founder and president, Jay Goninen, and co-founder and CEO, Mark Wilson, shared the progress the company has made in supporting techs and vocational schools and discussed the challenges facing the industry, how they add to the technician shortage, and what they anticipate for the industry in the future. Sara Kerwin, director of marketing, moderated the conversation.

While much of the webinar was a retrospective on the problems WrenchWay is working to solve, Goninen, Wilson, and Kerwin did take a moment to appreciate what the company has achieved in its three years in business. This included registering 1,000 shops and dealerships and 600 schools on WrenchWay's platform. In particular, they stated, the number of schools registered on WrenchWay has grown dramatically across the past six months, increasing the readily available resources for the industry.

Read more: We can solve the technician shortage

But the webinar was not all sunshine and daisies. WrenchWay leadership also outlined three industry-wide issues they had observed in shops on their platform contributing to the technician shortage.

Taking the shortage seriously

When discussing commercial vehicle maintenance's lack of labor, both Wilson and Goninen agreed that the industry’s relationship with the technician shortage is a strange one. It’s no secret that shops and dealers are having trouble getting hands on deck and that automotive programs are closing down, with Wilson describing how a school near him could lose its automotive program.

And yet, Wilson and Goninen observed that there is a lack of urgency in working together to deal with the problem, possibly because the technician shortage has been the topic of think pieces, panels, and statistics for over a decade.

“I think it's easy to read the statistics, and a lot of times it becomes white noise because you always hear about the technician shortage,” Goninen said.

This makes it easier for shops to choose not to address the shortage as a problem, but as a fact of life.

Meanwhile, others might want to help, “but they get tied up in so much,” Wilson commented.

Short-term vs. long-term goals

The difference between a shop’s short-term goals and daily operation and their long-term goals of resolving the technician shortage is part of what makes approaching the issue so difficult.

“We're very much trying to put a Band-Aid on a bullet hole and focusing on the short term,” Goninen noted. “In this industry, there's so much pressure on you to perform and [take care of] your P&Ls, [everyone is] living month by month. And that can be a really, really big challenge because it doesn't allow you to back out of your day-to-day fires.”

In fact, Wilson has found that at conferences or polls, not being able to hire technicians is one of the prevailing issues.

“We always say ‘post and pray,’” Wilson said, describing the approach many shops use to fill their workforce. “Post on Indeed and pray to get someone, but beyond that, companies are not doing a lot.”

Instead, both men argued that the commercial vehicle maintenance industry needs to make the time to address the long-term issues feeding the technician shortage.

“The more we can address the issue at hand and the actual core of the issue, rather than just trying to go with quick fixes, the better off our industry is going to be as a whole,” Goninen asserted.

Transparency

While the industry works toward a broader, more unified solution to the technician shortage, Wilson suggested that great shop transparency could be an easy way to address the problem.

“There are so many employers that do things the right way,” Wilson said. “My frustration is that you would never know it by looking at them.”

As an example, many shops have told WrenchWay that they have addressed many of their technicians’ frustrations by adapting their practices in response. As a result, Wilson explained, many shops now offer some kind of guarantee or pay 1.5x for warranty after hearing that their employees don’t like warranty rates.

Read more: Addressing top technician frustrations, according to WrenchWay

“Why aren't you screaming from the mountaintop that you have done these things?” Wilson asked. “Your best way to recruit is to show what you do well,” whether that’s through videos on social media, photos, or job descriptions.

The future

Unfortunately, WrenchWay’s cofounders do not anticipate the industry’s labor shortage easing any time soon.

“I know the shortage isn't getting any better in the next year,” Wilson said. “In fact, I bet it gets worse.”

Nevertheless, the industry can still adapt to address the shortage, either by increasing wages for current technicians or by adapting recruitment practices and training opportunities.

“We've got to get comfortable with training and developing technicians,” Goninen explained. “The leverage has shifted to technicians drastically, and it's going to require competitors working together to uplift the entire industry.”

About the Author

Alex Keenan

Alex Keenan is an Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. She has written on a variety of topics for the past several years and recently joined the transportation industry, reviewing content covering technician challenges and breaking industry news. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

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