Recruiting, hiring, development & retention of quality employees

A business is only as strong as its weakest link, and unfortunately, that weakness link is often its employees. It’s simple. The competition for quality technicians is very keen right now, and sadly the numbers entering the automotive service profession, especially in the role of technician, seems sadly slim.

Make no mistake, it’s not just our line of business. Ask your local carpenter, plumber, or electrician how difficult it has become to find young folks entering the profession. Consequently, we have an aging workforce, and the few that do trickle into the service profession are eagerly sought after. Some stay and become exceptional technicians, but many leave, disillusioned or disappointed.

Bruce Howes

Recruiting

Recruiting staff has never been harder and, at the same time, easier than today. In the past, one would place an ad in the local newspaper, hang up a “Help Wanted” sign in the window, or ask the local parts shop. Thankfully, the rise of the internet has made finding quality candidates much easier. It’s the question of getting them to respond to your ad. We’ve found resources like Indeed.com and, to a lesser degree, Craigslist work well – if the ad is well crafted.

Another excellent resource is your company’s own Facebook page. Make the page interesting, share corporate culture, tech questions, and staff photos and features. As a result, you’ll likely draw in as followers potential technical candidates who like your “vibe” and “energy,” which are words that were shared with me by candidates. Consider other traditional channels such as local vo-tech schools, apprenticeship programs and even former military members.

I’ve read and seen many ads that attempt to recruit with a “signing bonus,” which isn’t a bad idea. However, after interviewing literally hundreds of technicians over the last 33 years, I can say that a signing bonus has its place, but much like your own service customers, it’s not No. 1 on the list of quality technicians. Money may bring someone onboard, but it won’t keep them there – at least not for long.

Offer a ‘career’, not a ‘job’

The concept of hiring and offering not just a “job,” but actually a “career” is key to not only attracting but retaining quality employees. And while we’re at it, let’s start using the term “team member” rather an employee. It’s a subtle but powerful paradigm shift. Employee is a number, a cog in a wheel, whereas “team member” implies a mutual and meaningful contribution, which is what so many of the younger folks are looking for.

Once you get the candidates attention, you need to share your company’s values. Today more than ever, employees are looking for more than just a “job.” They’re looking for a career. They’re looking for a home. Evaluate your business’s environment. Is it clean, organized, well lit? I it an attractive place to work? Most serious candidates will want to see your workshop. It should be the jewel of your employment offer.

Let’s talk about a word that has a lot of baggage associated with it – the word “team.” I’m proud to share that we have a “team environment” that we work together to solve problems. That is the new paradigm in the world, especially with the complexity of today’s autos. Most new and younger employees like that. They enjoy, seek out and thrive in that “esprie de corps” that comes with a well-motivated and trained team.

Hiring Process

I’ve found a three-step hiring process works best. On the initial phone interview, I screen the candidate for the right skills, attitude and character to be a good match to our staffing needs. Second, I invite the candidate into our facility, meet him or her personally, and then set up a private meeting with some of our team members. In essence, the team conducts the second part of the interview. It’s a peer on peer interview, and these can either become very informative or very entertaining.

Most candidates are shocked that we let them speak privately with our team members. But it becomes a relaxed atmosphere, and with the guard down, the true personality comes out. In essence, my employees do the screening and make the hiring decision. I’ve rarely made a hire against the advice of my team. After a short time together, they usually have the pulse of the candidate. I might pay for a group lunch or do it after hours. If the forum is relaxed, it almost always brings us the best qualified candidate.

If possible, we want the new candidate to do what we term a “working interview.” The purpose of this working interview process is to allow a potential candidate to be fully immersed in the culture and responsibilities of employment at our faculty, and to allow our staff to evaluate the candidate’s performance and skillset in real-world conditions.

The candidate is compensated during this period at an agreed-upon rate. This working interview is a trial period only, lasting one week or less. No guarantee of employment is to be expressed or assumed. Contingent upon candidate performance, additional working interview periods may be granted until a hiring decision is made.

Onboarding 

Once we’ve made the hiring decision and agreed on compensation, the next steps are what we call “onboarding.” It includes setting goals and expectations with the candidate and helping them map out their career and training path with your organization. This can be as simple as 30-, 60- and 90-day goal sheets, with firm milestones noted. Or it can be complex as an education path for the next three years. I’d encourage you to do both, if possible. Then review at the end of each period, sitting down with the candidate at 30, 60 and 90 days and review their progress to map a path forward. These should always be positive, uplifting meetings aimed at encouraging rather than discouraging your candidate.

The 30/60/90 plan is rather simple. You should set standards of production, skills confirmation or training. This can be done via online tests or videos, or directly in the workshop under the auspices of a senior technician. The important thing to understand with this process is that you are setting the candidate up for success, not creating a fail path. The milestones allow you to see that the candidate is progressing well toward expectations and help notify you of additional training or skills needed should those expectations not be met.

In other words, it’s about investing in your candidate, building them up to fully meet the requirements of the job. Goals not accomplished in the first 30 days are then moved to the 60-day window, along with the other 60-day tasks, so that when the candidate hits 90 days, all the requisite skills and standards have been met.

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