A New Way to Think About the Labor Shortage
by Annette Estorga
Client Implementation Specialist
For many people, collision repair is part of their family history, and I am no different.
My grandfather owned one of the first body shops in his hometown, and my father began as a painter’s apprentice at 13. My dad achieved his dream to own his own shops with “floors so clean you could eat off them.” He was also the president of the California Autobody Association, a co-founder of what is today one of the nation’s largest MSOs, and was the first Chairman of the Collision Industry Conference.
I grew up watching and learning how a successful shop ran. Of course, having the right infrastructure, performing quality repairs, and delivering great customer service are cornerstones of any growing business. But what was foundational to all of this was creating a great culture for our employees and making it a place where they loved to come to work.
There have been many stories about the labor shortage impacting our industry and others. So how are you creating a great employee culture to train, retain, and attract talent to keep your shop moving forward?
The Bench: Train and Retain
What does your ideal team structure look like? A group of individuals with specialized skills where, when someone is out sick or leaves the shop, the whole process breaks down?
By cross training your team on different skills, they can be more effective and able to handle unforeseen hurdles that will inevitably come up. Train on the basics, train the “ideal situation,” then train on the unusual situations.
What I also learned from my dad was the need to recognize what motivates your staff. I once trained a young lady who worked in our back office. She was extremely sharp and hard-working but also got bored rather quickly. So, I trained her on receiving or invoicing parts, then on returns, and a little bit on ordering and following up on orders. On her first day in Parts, she swapped her office attire and proudly showed up in jeans, tennis shoes, and one of the Parts Coordinator’s shirts – including a makeshift masking tape nametag – ready to “join the crew.”
I was able to harness her skills and capture her desire to keep learning. In turn, the employee felt like we really invested in her and cared about her growth as a person. She went on to cross-train in multiple other areas, always giving the shop coverage as an extremely valuable employee.
Invest in Your Team
How else can you train your bench? Sometimes it will go beyond shadowing another employee and it might involve paying for I-CAR or another certification.
Your next thought may be, “But Annette if I pay for someone to get certified, they’re just going to leave my shop and go put it to use somewhere else.” But creating a place where people want to work is just as important as delivering to them a paycheck. What kind of shop culture are you creating? In our shops, my family always tried to be clear on expectations, recognize a job well done, and see staff as real people who had lives and goals outside of the shop.
When you offer your team members a good job that they know well, is fun, makes them proud, allows them to grow, pays well, and where they are working with like-minded friendly people – a person is likely not going to jump ship for a dollar or two more.
The Next Generation: Attracting Talent
Shops can’t rely only on their current team members to address staffing needs. We must, as an industry, find ways to get more young people interested in collision repair.
The good news is that you don’t need to do it alone. Organizations like the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), SkillsUSA, and local vocational schools offer opportunities to reach this next generation of talent.
When a person who is new to the industry joins your team, how are they welcomed to your shop? Can they see a future, or are they required to pay their dues by sweeping floors and doing nothing but menial tasks for the first few weeks and months?
You likely had to pay your dues in the industry when you started out, just like I did, and my father before me. But these young people have something unique to offer. Cars are basically traveling computers and this generation has grown up with technology in their hands – give them a tablet and the wi-fi password and they can figure out just about anything.
Create an onboarding plan, including pairing up new employees with more experienced technicians. I once had a bodyman who was about to retire, so we paired him up with a new apprentice. It was a little rough at first, but soon, the two became inseparable, making inside jokes with each other as they worked together. The bodyman felt like he was passing the baton, and the apprentice felt as if he had meaningful work to do and wanted to do his teacher proud.
A shop’s success is often measured in dollars, and while the customer is incredibly important, it’s just as important to think about your employees too. A great place to work makes for happy employees who want to create great customer experiences.