According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, U.S. new-vehicle dealerships employ about 317,000 service technicians nationwide — an average of 16 per store. But nearly 30 percent of dealership techs leave their jobs every year, many of them for other industries. NADA estimates that franchised dealerships will have to hire about 76,000 technicians this year — and a similar number annually through 2026 — just to keep up with their needs, even as the number of graduates from postsecondary tech training programs continues to decline.
To stop its techs from defecting, Group 1, of Houston, introduced a four-day workweek at more than 60 dealerships during the fourth quarter of last year, says Mike Jones, the group's senior vice president of aftersales. The goal is better work-life balance — a hot-button concern, particularly for millennial employees.
Jones notes that customer-pay service revenue growth at dealerships that offered techs a four-day workweek was about twice the growth experienced by stores with traditional work schedules during the fourth quarter of 2018.
"It's impressive to see and it's not a coincidence," Jones says. "When you have a four-day schedule, it literally increases the capacity of the facility without adding any bricks and mortar to it. Techs essentially work 100 percent of their hours in 80 percent of the days."
Starting this year, Asbury Automotive, of Duluth, Ga., is paying the weekly insurance premiums for its base health plan for eligible A- and B-level (the most experienced and skilled) service technicians, body shop technicians, painters and foremen.
The benefit also applies to eligible service advisers and body shop estimators.
"The vast majority of our employees are on a single plan, so we decided to pay that premium for them," Hult says. "If someone needs a family plan, we'll credit their single-plan payment toward the family plan. That should save them thousands of dollars a year, depending on their insurance plan."
The dealership group also is introducing an equity plan called the Asbury Owners Club. It gives shares of company stock to roughly 3,000 employees — including A and B techs and service advisers — who have been employed for at least a year. They must meet individual performance targets to qualify for the stock grants, Hult says.
"These are restricted shares … with no option price, so it's a nice deal," he notes. "We want to motivate employees to plant their roots and spend their careers with us. If we have a tech who earns stock for 15 years, that'll result in one nice nest egg over time. It's a real nice incentive."
Asked whether employees would rather have higher pay, Hult says Asbury already pays competitive wages. "We look at competitive pay as a cost of entry, not a benefit," he says.