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Shop culture's impact on technician retention

Dec. 1, 2023
Finding the most technically skilled technician is only half the battle when it comes to shop recruitment and retention. Making sure you have the right tech for your shop, and then keeping them, can be more about culture than technical skills.

With the technician shortage still a very real issue in the commercial vehicle industry, finding and keeping technicians is sure to be top of mind for almost every shop manager. Even with that statistic beginning to change for the better, poor management still accounts for one of the top three reasons a technician leaves their post, according to WrenchWay’s most recent Voice of Technician survey.

And they’re not the only ones who’ve noted the importance of good leadership in the maintenance shop. Ratchet+Wrench’s 2023 Industry Survey Report found that 14% of technicians left their jobs in the first two years. Meanwhile, the Society for Human Resource Management found that 84% of people who quit their jobs said poorly trained managers where their motivation for departing.

Read more: Love’s tech retention strategy: A career-long embrace

“People don't quit jobs, and they don't quit organizations,” said Ryan Hillenbrand, founder of Urb’s Garage. “People quit people. So, if you don't have good people there, you're not going to be able to retain anybody anyway.”

So, what are the finer points of finding that balance between employer and employee? According to several shop managers, its finding the right tech to fit the shop culture and making sure that communication is a critical part of that culture.

Recruitment for culture

The first element of a strong shop culture is making sure that your employees fit that culture. To do so, Hillenbrand starts each hiring process with a questionnaire to determine if the prospective tech will fit in at his shop, including gauging their comfort level with various jobs. After that, he asks them for references, but not from their past employers, but their coworkers.

“I ask them for two references of the best technicians they ever worked with and two references with the best advisors they ever worked with,” Hillenbrand explained. “I don't want to talk to their boss. I only talk to the people that they’ve worked with every day. The secret to that is those people are going to tell you what you need to know about this person who’s coming in.”

Mutually, Hillenbrand works to show that his shop can provide for the interviewee and will keep them busy. Ideally, that would mean hiring sales associates and technicians together to make sure they can communicate well.

When it comes to making an offer, Mike Allen of Carfix, a shop owner from Raleigh, North Carolina, always makes his interest in a candidate obvious and immediate. After sharing a meal with a promising applicant, Allen will decide if he wants to make the offer then and there.

Read more: Shops must develop strong culture, mentorships to get techs, Fullbay and WrenchyWay advise

“When we have that face-to-face contact, I'm going to have a complete hiring packet with me and a folder that has details of all of our benefits,” Allain said. “We've created this one-sheet of the answers to all the questions that the spouse asks that the applicant always forgets to ask. So, we want to get ahead of all those questions to compress that timeline and frankly, if after we've broken bread and I'm determined that I'm interested in having this person in our company, I'm going to be prepared to make them a job offer immediately.”

This both allows Allen to personally see if the tech will fit his shop, and then gives the tech greater confidence in the shop at large.

Creating a culture for retention

But finding a solid technician is only half the battle, now comes the fight to keep them. According to Hillenbrand, that means being able to tailor your management style to the technician you’re working with, a critical skill as Baby Boomers are turning wrenches next to Gen Z techs. To do that, Urb’s Garage’s founder said he emphasizes hiring technicians who have a passion for the job.

“So, we don't want to hire people just to have a job,” Hellenbrand explained. “We want guys who are making this into a career and who have found that being in auto repair is their calling; guys who take pride in their work. Your best performers are going to be searching for something more.”

To keep these passionate technicians, clear communication is critical. For Hillenbrand, that means daily meetings to ensure his employees feel heard, from their problems at work to their wants and their needs in the shop. This also means being engaged in their personal lives, to show that the shop is truly invested in the tech.

By acting quickly and hiring for the whole technician and not just their skills, shops are sure to have a better shot at beating the technician shortage.

This story is curated from a full article posted on Ratchet+Wrench. For the full piece, click here.

About the Author

Chris Jones

Chris Jones is the editor  of  Ratchet+Wrench magazine and host of its companion podcast, Ratchet+Wrench Radio, a weekly show featuring automotive professionals across the auto care landscape.

A multi-award-winning journalist and magazine editor, Chris has been a full-time writer for over a decade. He is curious about ideas that provoke thought, inspire growth, and help individuals live their best lives while relating to others.

When not with his family—he has a wife, three children and a border collie named Ellie—he enjoys reading, exercising, wandering about town and playing retro Nintendo games.