Other dealerships are thinking ahead, too. Take Park Place Dealerships in Dallas, which began hiring assistants to its top salespeople about five years ago. It has helped to build a "robust pipeline" of future talent, said Sherry Miller, Park Place's vice president of human resources.
"Assistants are learning our systems, our [customer relationship management] system, our processes, doing deliveries and managing correspondence between the clients and us," Miller said.
To build talent at Del Grande Dealer Group in San Jose, Calif., leaders have created some new recruitment jobs: director of talent acquisition, talent acquisition coordinator and talent acquisition team member, said COO Jeremy Beaver.
"We'll also continue to build our training department as we look for people outside the auto sector," Beaver said. "That will be a growth area."
To better serve customers, Del Grande will add a director of guest experience job in the third quarter, Beaver said. That person will focus on customer satisfaction scores and online reputation and ensure the company's processes are aligned with customers' desires.
"These are not traditional positions in auto retail that you'd see before now, but we believe they are vital to our business," said Beaver.
Perhaps one of the most striking job changes came in Lithia Motors Inc.'s top echelon in January. Lithia's CFO, Chris Holzshu, moved into a newly created role of chief human resources officer. He leads Lithia's human resources, information technology and store administration teams.
"My position was created to make sure that we had somebody that touched enough people that we could focus on four main things," Holzshu said.
Those are: building culture, talent recruitment, talent retention and rewarded performance.
To that end, Lithia created a director of employee experience about a year ago. The director conducts employee engagement surveys and, said Holzshu, "makes sure all directors talk together so that communication flows with all leaders down to employees, so that even an anniversary does not go unnoticed."
When Holzshu started at Lithia 15 years ago, it did not have one talent recruiter, he said. It relied solely on job leads. Today, Lithia employs more than 20 recruiters to hire for core dealership jobs. Lithia has eight recruiters to fill management jobs across the company. In the next decade, Holzshu said, the number of recruiters will rise as the retail process changes and Lithia expands. But for now, he said, "It is an employee's market, so we have to do a better job at marketing our industry."
The Germain Group is doing just that.
"We've gone so far as to reinvent the name 'service adviser,'" said Mike Davis, service director for Germain's Audi, Porsche and VW stores in Ann Arbor.
Davis advertises the job as a project manager, seeking a person with conflict resolution skills able to serve as liaison among the manufacturer, the customer and the technical staff.
"The old-school idea of 'Get them in the lane, fix their car and get them out' doesn't fit today's clientele," said Davis. "The people we hire need to be computer-savvy, literate and able to communicate and manage a project."