By Shane Wilker

For the agriculture and construction industries, recruiting and retaining service technicians has always been a challenge. It’s been further exacerbated by a global workforce shortage prompted by the pandemic.

In its 2020 study, the Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) identified several factors hampering recruitment:

  • Service technicians require more knowledge and skills with emerging technologies vs. traditional tools.
  • Vocational programs in schools, colleges and trade organizations are inadequate in providing the necessary training and job readiness skills.
  • The volume of technicians with knowledge and hands-on experience entering the workforce is not keeping up with the retirement of baby boomers.
  • The U.S. Department of Education reported that between 2000 and 2017 the percentage of high school graduates enrolling in four-year degree programs skyrocketed 63%.
  • Technical jobs have diminished social perceptions and visibility.  

Far West Equipment Dealers Association (FWEDA) is working with industry partners and educators to change this through its Dealer Pathways program. This includes outreach and assisting dealers to identify and create opportunities in the marketplace:

Recruit early

If you want to attract students to the industry, it is vital to start with grades 7-10, perhaps even elementary school. By the time students are juniors and seniors in high school, many have already decided on a career to pursue. Schedule a “Drive a tractor Day” at your dealership. Have your experienced technicians set up different skills testing stations to demonstrate the advanced technology of today’s equipment.

Do your own research

Find out what your competition is doing. When we say competition, we’re not just talking about another equipment dealer, we’re talking about any company that could be an option for hiring your potential candidates. Find out what could move the needle for prospective candidates who could be a good fit for your company and make it happen.

Use every tool in the toolbox

Reach out to every job placement service you can think of. Reach out to online recruitment companies, local and regional job service companies, and veterans’ organizations. Get creative. Enlist your employees to find qualified applicants. Maybe they know someone looking to relocate who could be a fit. Offer pay incentives applicable only if the applicant remains full-time after a 90-day probation period.   

Be competitive

It is critical you are aware of the pay scale available in your area. Unfortunately, the easiest way for companies to hire a technician is to poach them from another dealer. All this does is create a bidding war, which technicians will continue to use against both dealers to extract a raise. This makes it hard to stick to a budget and doesn’t solve the technician shortage. Find other ways to reward these critical employees. Offer them flex-time during the slow season, a mentorship position, and/or other incentives linked to increasing productivity for the department.

Cross-training

It’s vital that dealerships train their technicians to perform diverse skills. Working on multiple pieces of equipment empowers them and sends a message they are important to the success of the dealership. They’ll respond by producing more revenue. It also helps to balance the workload so you’re not relying on one technician to handle all the demands of one specific type of equipment.

Dealership culture

Dealership is critical to retaining employees. You can offer great pay packages but if service technicians don’t enjoy coming to work, persuading them they to stay will be impossible. Positive culture translates into value, appreciation and increased, quality productivity. A fulfilling dealership culture motivates employees to go the extra mile for the company.

“When it comes to retaining techs, recognition can be beneficial,” said RDO Equipment’s Chris Harmon, general manager. “Awarding certification progression offers opportunities to highlight their professional achievements.”

“Here at Pioneer Equipment, we like to treat our employees as family,” Dale Wilson, general manager of Pioneer Equipment in Fresno, Calif., said. “With all of the hours we spend at the dealership, we spend more waking hours at work together than we do with our own families. It has been very beneficial not only to our dealership culture, but it has been valuable to our customers as well.”

The complex dilemma of recruiting and retaining technicians will always be a challenge for dealerships. But expanding available resources, and getting creative with some of your own, attacks the problem head on. By understanding what applicants and current employees want out of their job and career combined with a winning team culture ensures everyone is working toward the same goal. Finally, it’s imperative that new applicants and current employees agree that your company is the best place for them to be: Sometimes the green grass on the other side of the fence could be coming from a leaky septic tank.

Shane Wilker, Dealer Development Consultant for Far West Equipment Dealers Association, has 18 years experience as an Aftermarket Manager at South Dakota-based C & B Operations. Wilker owns The Shane Wilker Company (formerly The Training Aspect), supporting training and education for dealership employees and management. He has an Associate Degree in Business Management from Idaho State University. Reach Shane at 530.601.7991 or DlrDev@fwedaservices.com.

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