For many years, the collision repair industry has been grappling with the issue of labor shortages. It is unlikely that a long-term solution will be found soon, says Steve Leal.
Well, here’s the situation: You own and operate a busy body shop with business increasing every day, you have invested in building the most advanced repair shop, you keep up with all the latest automotive trends, and your business is backed by innovative sales and marketing campaigns. Yet you struggle to keep up with the increasing volumes of business.
The reason is – you need the right and capable hands to keep the engine of your business running smoothly.
This is a familiar scenario at many automotive body shops – whether your business is independently operated or aligned with an established network. It’s not a recent trend and it’s not an issue that concerns only the United States. Every body shop around the world needs trained and talented people at all levels – technicians, customer service, insurance claims processors, management, and sales – who share your business vision and play a critical role in your success.
Every industry, and not just the collision repair industry, seems to be grappling with this roadblock. It is one thing to attract new people to our thriving industry, but it is another challenge to retain and encourage talented individuals. Every shop owner is keeping his or her fingers crossed that their star employees will remain on their team for many years.
In my interactions with body shop owners around the world, the shortage of skilled labor in the body shop operation has always remained a major concern. While the industry is actively looking for solutions, the current scenario is that we now have an ageing generation of technicians who will sooner or later retire, and that not many from the younger people have the inclination to pursue the aftermarket industry as an exciting career option.
Let’s face it – despite being an essential business, collision repair is a tough industry. Our profit margins are competitive, and we strive to maintain a strong work quality, while keeping our overheads low. The shortage of a capable workforce adds to this dilemma.
What is it that we can do to help overcome the gap between the demand for a skilled workforce and increase the attraction towards the aftermarket industry?
As a network that works proactively towards supporting franchisees in their operations, we work closely with industry partners and vocational schools towards assisting shop owners in identifying potential employees who can drive their success. Here then are some of my recommendations:
Changing the industry’s perception: A common dubious stigma attached to the aftermarket industry is that it’s a male-dominated, physically demanding business. This is, however, not so – our workforce is made up of both male and female team members who continue to inspire and lead the change.
Compensations & Incentives: In their effort to attract and retain skilled workers, many shop owners have taken a step towards paying more for the right people, with the hope that their key employees are not poached by other body shops hungry for their talent. A fair compensation structure, along with incentives or benefits package, is one way of encouraging new people to join you. Some shops have also reduced the probationary period to just three months or increased the time off for well-deserving team members. Other incentives are learn-as-you-work schemes offered by shops that allow new recruits to continue building on their expertise at the workplace.
Close collaboration with trade bodies & OEMs: At present, we work very closely with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMS) and skills organizations to train and certify our franchisees’ employees in specific aftermarket disciplines.
Job board: One of the benefits we offer our franchisees is an active job board where they can post their requirements for new recruits online. Using this important tool, franchisees can seek talented people within their own communities and neighborhoods by describing the role description for all job levels and matching the right talent that meet their needs.
Engage youth early: Most of the younger generation start thinking about their future careers at the high school level or at a vocational school. The curricula at these vocational schools are shaped by the latest automotive trends and therefore when the students graduate, they are already prepared to hit the ground running. By spreading awareness about the industry or creating rewarding apprentice-level opportunities, you can look at pulling talented students towards the trade.
Engage skilled people continuously: Nothing excites technicians than the opportunity to learn something new. Automotive technology is changing quickly, and technicians are always keen to make sure that they are on top of their game every time through hands-on training. Giving your technicians these opportunities shows that you always have their interests at your heart. At the same time, you have a team of players who can confidently repair the latest vehicles.
Positive work environment: Many shop owners look for creative and imaginative ways to build a thriving and inviting work culture where feedback is always encouraged. Such an environment helps foster team spirit and make new recruits feel that they are an important part of the operation.
In conclusion, this is not a problem that will go away any time soon. It will take years and even decades to find a solution, and I believe that the issue has the potential to worsen if not tackled soon. Finding effective solutions requires a concerted industry approach. Let’s make it happen!
Steve Leal is the President & CEO of Mondofix, Inc. dba Fix Network World, the leading global automotive aftermarket services network which includes ProColor Collision. The family of brands spans over 2,000 points of service internationally. In the United States, Mondofix, Inc. has granted an exclusive license to 79411 USA LLC to the FIX AUTO brand.