What are Some Out-of-the-Box Ways to Help the Tech Shortage?

by Mike Anderson

This month, we “ASK MIKE” to share his thoughts on out-of-the-box ways that collision repair businesses can address the technician shortage.

We at Hammer & Dolly hope you find the following exchange useful, and we encourage you to reach out to us if you have a question for Mike on this or any industry-related matter that he can answer in a future issue.

Hammer & Dolly: Whenever a conversation on the industry’s tech shortage takes place, two reasons for that trend immediately come up: The aging workforce and the age-old public perception of what the collision repair industry is. As a result, potential hires may not be as exposed to career opportunities in this profession as they should be. We all know the problems, but what about different solutions? Specifically in terms of 2022, what are some unique things that collision repair businesses could consider doing to help this situation that they may not have already done in the past?

Mike Anderson: When I had my shops, they were located outside of Washington, DC. I was competing with the Federal Government for my employees. The majority of the population in that area either works for the Federal Government or a Federal Government military contractor. The Federal Government obviously offers benefits – health insurance, retirement, etc. – and I had to compete with that. I had to think outside the box in order to recruit people. I think the industry today is having to compete with what I competed with back then, but now they’re also competing against the Amazons of the world.

Something has to change in this industry in regard to wages. While I was in Seattle not too long ago, I saw a burger joint that was offering $19 an hour to start with 100-percent paid health insurance, two weeks’ paid vacation and up to $10,000 a year in childcare! That’s what we’re competing against. We’re not going to recruit people unless we can offer better wages and benefits. Maybe we can’t compete with a large MSO or Amazon on health insurance, but perhaps we can offer flexible work hours and time off. How do we offer a higher wage? Maybe it’s by raising Labor Rates or by capturing more not-included items.

We also need to change our thinking. When I was growing up, Mom stayed home when a kid was sick from school. In today’s world, Mom might be the breadwinner, or Mom and Dad are equally providing income for the family. Your best body tech might have to take off for the day if their kids are home or are going on a field trip. We need to start looking beyond our normal wages and benefits packages.

Another point I’d like to make is that I don’t believe in stealing fish from another man’s pond; I don’t believe in hiring people from my competitor. We have to grow our own. At Collision Advice, I pick a theme each year to speak on around the country. My theme this year is, ‘Grow your team, grow your business and change the way you compete.’ It’s not about how to get the work; everybody has work right now. It’s about how you’re going to get the people. We have to understand that not everybody is motivated by the same things. There’s a book called The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White. In it, they say that people feel appreciated in different ways. Yes, there are people who feel appreciated when they receive money, but there are others who may feel more appreciated if they are given flexible work hours. Someone else may feel appreciated by being given the chance to go to Porsche training to get certified. We improve our culture by being open-minded to their individual motivations when we reward people, and as a result, they’re more likely to enjoy working for us.

We lock a lot of people out of our industry because we don’t have a good enrollment or indoctrination process. Maybe a shop didn’t have the best structure to train them, and it was a coin toss on whether they were going to make it or not. We need to develop a structure that allows them to receive training. One of the things we did at Collision Advice was develop a training matrix for all of our clients who used CCC. It basically said, ‘Here’s the first thing, second thing and third thing a CSR [customer service representative] has to learn.’ We need to partner with our equipment vendors and software partners to onboard new hires and indoctrinate people into our way of doing business.

H&D: I suspect there may be some readers who are reading this and thinking, “Mike, this is all great, but I can’t afford to offer these things to an employee right now.”

MA: That’s why they need to become a member of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists [SCRS]; they help shops offer 401(k) more affordably. SCRS is also very close to offering a health insurance package. Not offering health insurance is not an option. You have to offer it. We have an obligation to do that for our employees – not to mention that it’s good for your moral and social conscience.

Want more? Check out the June 2022 issue of Hammer & Dolly!