Recruiting Technicians:Be Creative or Be a Victim
Searches to fill open technician positions are becoming more and more lengthy. One fleet that operates an in-house maintenance operation reported that it took six months to find a qualified candidate to fill a single open position. And, the situation seems to be getting worse. Fleet managers say the number of qualified applicants is much fewer than just three years ago. Compounding this problem is that the pool of technicians currently working in public sector is “graying.” Some fleets report that as many as 30 percent of their technicians will retire in the next five years. With this high number of retirements, fleet operations will lose institutional knowledge that will be difficult to replace with new hires.
Marketing Your Advantages
One reason, among many, for the decreased number of applicants is the lower salaries offered by government fleet operations compared to private sector employers. Government wages are simply not competitive. Dealerships, which face the same technician shortage, have increased salaries and are offering higher commissions to attract technicians. For instance, a master technician at a dealership can earn between $70,000-$100,000 annually, a salary that public sector fleets cannot compete against. Despite the salary disparities, there are a number of advantages that government fleets have over the private sector. These include more attractive benefit packages, better health insurance coverage, pension plans, a greater number of paid holidays, and, in some cases, union membership. In addition, government employment offers a more stable work environment that is less subject to fluc-tuations in the economy and technicians do not have the pressure of flat rate production. Public sector fleets need to publicize and exploit these advantages, in addition to being more creative and proactive in their recruitment efforts.
One creative approach is to develop strategic alliances with local community colleges and vocational training centers to find the best mechanics and to nurture them as prospective future employees. For instance, the City of Little Rock Fleet Services Department in Arkansas knew it couldn’t compete with the high salaries that local dealerships offer technicians. Instead, it decided to compete using a more creative approach. Since 2001, it has partnered with two local vocational technical schools and it loans each an older-model police vehicle, along with auto parts for their classes. While in school, students are offered part-time employment and a set of loaner tools and a toolbox. Upon graduation, students are offered full employment with the City as technician assistants. This strategic alliance allows the City of Little Rock to identify in advance the top automotive students and to pre-empt local dealerships from scooping up the “cream of the crop.”
One proactive approach is to offer technicians flexible shifts with more time off. For example, Polk County Fleet Management in Florida has experimented successfully with 12-hour shift schedule where employees work 36 hours, are paid for 40 and work a three-day workweek. A second proactive strategy is to create a scholarship program for students interested in studying automotive and fleet maintenance. A third proactive approach is to develop on-site mentoring programs; however, some fleets have been unable to do so because of concerns about liability exposure should a student apprentice be injured while training on government premises. If you are not already doing so, you should also offer incentives to technicians to obtain ASE-certification or ongoing training. Some fleets base wages on the level of certification, which gives employees the ability to determine their own salaries while improving their skill levels. This provides a good enticement to not only attract new hires, but also to retain technicians. Along these lines, recruitment and employee retention can be enhanced if technician job descriptions are written so that promotions and pay are based on performance and not seniority. Unless fleet managers start to think out of the box and begin employing proactive and creative recruitment strategies, they will continue to be victims of a technician shortage that promises to continue for many years into the future.
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