"We are about to enter the craziest war for talent anyone has ever seen," Robinson said. "Get ready. It is going to be bananas."
The U.S. dealership business has seen large shifts in employment since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the U.S. a year ago. Auto retail jobs have been reduced, and much of the change should be permanent so that dealerships can operate more efficiently, Robinson said. He estimated that dealership job counts should be 5 to 7 percent lower than pre-pandemic levels. Sales representatives who sold 11 or 12 vehicles per month before the crisis began should now be targeting 15 to 17.
That's because after government- mandated shutdowns early in the pandemic were lifted, dealers discovered they could get more done with fewer people on the floor, he said.
Also, salespeople were making more money. The shift to more digital and remote sales has contributed to the productivity gains.
The pandemic also accelerated workplace flexibility by five to 10 years, Robinson said, and that change is here to stay.
"The work force today wants flexibility," he said. "They want to work how and when they're able to or want to."
Even if dealerships keep their staffing numbers permanently lower, good help is always needed in an industry in which the average employee turnover rate was 46 percent in 2019, according to the latest National Automobile Dealers Association Dealership Workforce Study.
Dealers are not expecting a surge of top candidates to come streaming through their doors.