A poor customer experience could prove costly to an automaker: The Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair estimates that, of owners who had a bad experience with a collision repair, two-thirds get rid of their vehicle within a year and 60 percent change vehicle brands.
Ford is hoping to avoid those negative experiences by engaging students through what Toney calls a series of coordinated grass-roots recruiting efforts to add about 5,000 technicians across its network within two years. Ford dealerships currently have about 30,000 technicians to fill 65,000 service bays across the country.
The automaker plans to add "placement specialists" at dealerships to engage with high schools, junior colleges and military bases to connect with students and teach them about vocational careers. Each dealership will be mapped to a particular school, and it will be responsible for sponsoring students by providing tuition and offering summer internships. And Ford plans to donate thousands of current model-year vehicles, as well as engines and powertrain equipment, for students to work on.
"What we want to do inside Ford is to institutionalize these things if we're going to have a sustainable program to be the bedrock of our ability to provide great customer service for our customers," Toney said.
Toney said Ford already has a number of initiatives in place, but it's now bringing them all together.
"If you talk to every dealer, he or she is doing something; getting them engaged is not the problem," Toney said. "We have all these disparate activities that don't tie together in a way that allow us to be efficient and get results. We're now streamlining those efforts into one national program."
Without the still-unnamed program fully in place, Toney says Ford has recruited about 800 to 900 technicians so far this year and hopes to bump that number to 2,500 by the end of the year.
Today, about 40 percent of the students Ford sponsors go to work for its dealerships upon graduation. Ford is hoping to improve that number.
"We're helping them recruit more effectively," Toney said. "It's not just attracting them; we need to retain them."
Toney said Ford was spending "an awful lot" on the endeavor but declined to give specifics.
"Dealers have been asking for this sort of support for a long time," he said.
"The technician is the heart and soul of enabling a great experience for customers."