Auto Dealers Struggling to Find Mechanics

BY Courtney Huckabay

"After selling almost 70 million new vehicles over the past four booming years, the nation’s 17,500 new-​car dealerships face a curious predicament," Ted Evanoff writes in The Commercial Appeal. "Auto sales finally have slowed, leaving dealers ever more dependent on the service department for profits, even though many are short on employees."

I think crisis is a good word for it,’’ said automotive analyst Harry Hollenberg of Carlyle & Co., a consulting firm near Boston that recently surveyed 22,000 vehicle technicians nationwide.

It’s very difficult to get workers,’’ said Nora Boyte, chief financial officer of Mid-​Tennessee Ford Trucks, a Nashville dealership. “We could use three people right now. We’re willing to train them up.’’

"As many as 25,000 jobs are vacant at dealerships throughout the nation, Mark Davis, automotive programs manager at Seminole State College in Sanford, Fla., told the New York Times in April. The problem is too few skilled people available in the labor force as baby boomers retire. Adecco Group North America, a recruiting firm based in Jacksonville, Fla., estimated 62 percent of companies throughout the nation in an array of industries struggle to replace skilled workers."

The good news is: 10% of U.S. adults set personal goals to learn a new career skill in the next 12 months, according to the AudienceSCAN survey data. Community colleges and auto dealers can target new skill-​seekers in career-​driven campaigns.

Coming out of the recession, a lot of dealers were just trying to survive. Then they had the quick rise in sales and were just trying to meet demand. Now as sales plateau, people are looking at the operational aspects of their dealerships,” said Steven Szakaly, chief economist at the National Automobile Dealers Association, a trade group in Tysons, Va.

It's so tough, some dealers and dealer associations are paying for vocational schooling for potential mechanics, and partnering with local vocational and technical colleges to promote interest in skilled trade certifications.

"Memphis dealers set out to replicate Florida’s Seminole State College model and partner with existing automotive programs at Southwest Tennessee Community College or state-​funded vocational schools. But as the dealers met with Tennessee education officials, Ritchey said, they realized the limits of the state-​run programs, particularly the outdated classroom equipment."

Trade schools can target New Career Skill Seekers too. Putting emphasis on auto mechanic programs and job placement ratios will make ad campaigns resonate. The AudienceSCAN survey showed 43% of New Career Skill Seekers plan to get new jobs in the next 12 months.

"Engine technology now advances every few years, Ritchey said. So graduates of Southwest Tennessee, for example, still need training on dealers’ modern equipment. Dealers could make do in the past by retraining community college grads. In an era when high schools tend to steer their able students to four-​year colleges, however, too few seek training for blue-​collar jobs."

Competitive pay also is an issue for retaining good mechanics. By rewarding skilled labor and promoting loyal staff, dealerships could lessen turnover. "When Carlyle & Co. surveyed 22,000 auto technicians nationwide, pay complaints were rife in every part of the country. Aware the transaction prices have been rising for years, discontented mechanics know their pay has not risen as fast."

Try recruiting New Career Skill Seekers through social media and TV. According to the AudienceSCAN data, 39% of skill seekers took action after seeing ads on a social networks, and 40% reacted to ads on television (over-​the-​air, online, mobile or tablet).

"Hollenberg said his national survey noted auto techs feel unappreciated. Many see showroom sales staff get bonus pay while technicians are constrained, he said. For example, even if they learn to do a 90-​minute brake repair in 60 minutes, they are not always paid for their performance."

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.