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Recruiting and training

by Art Little

Transmission Digest Magazine
This article appeared in the July 2001 issue of Transmission Digest.

I am still seriously worried about the employment challenge facing our industry today. In 1997, I retired out of the shops and started working on a solution to the industry's employment issues. When I started, I was pretty optimistic and set a goal to work full time on it and solve the problem in about six months. I decided to build an employment website for the industry that puts shop owners and employees together nationwide. Going on four years now, after setting a goal of six months, I realize it is a bigger problem than what I thought in the beginning. The website has been successful and has been able to put many shop owners and experienced employees together in a systematic way over the years. However, that is not going to be enough.

Honestly, I have to tell you, we are not going to see an end to this. There are just too many cars and not enough people to fix them. However, in this article I will give you my take on what I have seen over the years and try to offer some ideas on what we can all do to try and get a handle on this critical issue.

In a previous article I brought up the fact that shortages created the opportunity for installers to reach builder status quicker now than ever before. That may have temporarily eased the burden of the builder shortage somewhat, but it has created a big shortage in the installer category. We are borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. At the website there are 377 builders registered and only 144 installers. This is fourth grade arithmetic now. As far as I know there is no training facility for entry level installers and when I talk to managers wanting to get into our industry, I refer them to the franchises or Terry Greenhut. That is the only place I know of that they can get trained. It is pretty clear to me what has to happen. We need to go get young men that want to build a career in our industry and find a way to train them.

Our industry has a lot to offer when you look at it. We can be very competitive with other industries. To start with, he doesn't need a college degree. We can pay an entry level employee a great starting salary. More than allot of people make with a college degree and, with a lot of room to make even more money in a short period of time. Long term he has the opportunity to make more money than about 80% of the people working in other professions. Ours is an established, honorable profession that has a future with no end. Transmissions are going to break down from now on. So why do we not have enough new people coming in to fill the positions?

I think allot of it is because we are just not aggressively recruiting the kids into our game. I hear everybody say that the kids are going into computers instead of auto repair. Cars have computers. That's a cop out. The real truth is, the computer industry is aggressively recruiting them. They are organized and have a plan to bring in new blood. That is also why we loose our technicians to the dealerships. As an industry, we do not have an aggressive organized plan to go get the new recruits we need or a way to train them when we do. You can't tell me kids don't like to work on cars. I don't believe that. We just need to let them know we are here and that we have a great future to offer them.

Where do we find them:

We could go to the high schools and get involved in their work study programs. These kids go to school a half a day and work a half a day. We may have to loan the kid a few tools, spend some time with him and show him the ropes but, we will be bringing young men into our industry. By the time he gets out of high school, if you have done your part, he might be a pretty fair installer or manager and go to work for you full time. I have found if you train your own from scratch, they are very loyal employees and the only way they know, is your way.

Jr. Colleges are another source. There are Jr. Colleges all over the country with automotive programs. You might visit your local Jr. College and see what it is all about. Meet the instructors and let them know who you are. Tell them you will be available to guest lecture in one of their classes. See if one of the top students needs a job. See if the instructor wants to go to work. Do something even if it's wrong. You never know where it will lead.

General repair shops are also an avenue to bring in entry level employees. These employees are already working on cars and managing auto shops. They are just not working on the transmission. Give them a chance to work in the transmission business. Most will jump at the opportunity to learn and make more money. We can out pay the general repair shops. We have a better deal for them.

You can run an ad in your local newspaper and let them know you are looking for people to train out of the general repair field. I used to send out letters addressed to "The Manager" at general repair shops. In the letter I would explain the advantage of coming to work for my company as a manager and that I would be interested in interviewing him and any and all Tec's he knows that would be interested in making more money and having a more secure future. Sometimes, I would get an irate owner calling me to complain about this recruiting tactic and I would try to hire him too. This is America, people can work where they want to. And, there is nothing illegal about sending a letter. The point is, you have to be aggressive in your recruiting.

How do we train them once we get them:

Training is something a transmission shop owner does every day. Even if he doesn't even know he does it, he does. We train our children, our grand children, our wives, our animals, our vendors and our employees everyday. We just train. That's what we do, each of us, in our own way, every day. Most of the training so far has always been done in house. Franchises have training but what about the rest of us?

Wouldn't it be great if we had a training facility in every major city in the U.S. that would recruit new prospects for us and take in entry level Tec's and managers in and train them for us ? Entry level managers and installers only. Why not entry level builders? I have talked to a few upstart builder schools over the years that want me to place their students. But, as an old transmission man, I know you can't train a builder in a few months, so I have declined their offers.

The builders get trained in the shops. As a rule, they start off as installers and learn that first. Then, they go the extra mile and learn how to build. If they are lucky, they find a builder that takes a liking to them and shows them the tricks of the trade. Then, if they are real lucky, they find an owner willing to give them an opportunity to build. That's the way it is now and that is how it has been since I have been in the business. If somebody has a builder school out there that can prove me wrong, contact me and I will set you up.

Since the training facilities would take a major money and time investment, and are years away at best, I think the internet is our best bet as far as training goes for now. We still need to attend the seminars, but the internet is open 24/7 everyday and can supply consistent daily training.

The websites like Trans-online, TRNi, and ATRA On-line are promising training grounds not only for entry level people, but for the seasoned vet. These websites are full of information and they are convenient to use. Huge databases of technical data are only a mouse click away. Combine message boards and email discussion groups consisting of people working in the trenches every day to these data bases, and there is a ton of training going on when you think about it. There, we all learn from each others experiences and it is consistent, on going training for anyone who wants to learn. If you have not turned your employees on to these sites, you need to, and take some of the training burden off yourself as a shop owner.

We all learn from each other everyday. These are just my thoughts for what they are worth. I would be interested in hearing your ideas on recruiting new prospects and training ideas. Maybe we could form a committee to organize a more aggressive approach to getting the new employees into our industry or develop at least one training facility. That would be a start. I will work with anyone willing to help me with this important project. If you are interested in helping, you can contact me at the website. Until next time, take care of each other out there.

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