Carlisle & Co.'s seventh Automotive Technician Survey this fall incorporated more than 17,500 responses representing 17 brands across the U.S. and Canada. The survey continues to show the challenges the industry has with technician satisfaction, noting that 35 percent of respondents expect to leave their brand in the next year or two. An overwhelming percentage say they would not recommend being a technician. Meredith Collins, 29, a director at Carlisle who oversees much of its technician-related work, discusses other survey findings with Editor Dan Shine. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: What are some of the factors pushing down overall satisfaction for technicians?
A: Given that the majority of technicians are paid via flat rate, factors that result in work without "fair" pay tend to be some of the biggest drivers. For example, diagnostic work represents about 25 percent of technicians' total working hours, but most technicians are either not paid for it or paid a flat amount that may not be considered sufficient. We see complaints about dealers not stocking enough special tools required for a repair and poor tool inventory management practices.
Also, technicians spend a fair amount of time conducting multipoint inspections without getting paid unless it turns into incremental customer pay business. And finally, a tech's relationship with their service adviser has a significant impact on satisfaction. The adviser impacts a technician's compensation — whether it's selling the result of the MPI or documenting all the proper customer feedback on a repair order. Only 24 percent of techs report "they and their service adviser properly communicate to fix the car right the first time."
How has the pandemic impacted technicians' lives and careers?
More than half of survey respondents experienced reduced hours, while a quarter reported being furloughed or temporarily laid off. During the pandemic, techs' work became more difficult — masks, gloves, social distancing, frequent disinfecting, etc. Not surprisingly, 22 percent of respondents said their productivity declined as a result. Technicians seem lukewarm about how their dealerships are supporting them during COVID.
Only about 40 to 45 percent of techs are satisfied with some key features of their dealership's COVID protocol — providing safety equipment, enacting safety measures among employees and between employees and customers and ensuring vehicles are sanitized prior to customer delivery. While about 60 percent of respondents claim COVID hasn't impacted their decision to stay at their current job, 28 percent reported that it has made them more likely to stay.
What can dealerships do to turn these numbers around?
In 2018, the Automotive Technician Collaboration — represented by such companies as Ford, GM, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz USA, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen of America and Volvo — was formed as an industry response to the technician crisis.
Through this effort, [the collaboration] has developed a series of dealer-facing playbooks, how-to guides and quick tips on how to best effect change in the key areas that are causing technician dissatisfaction. A recent Technician How-To Guide outlined specific industrywide guidance on how dealerships should handle the most common problems facing techs — for instance, compensation plans, management tactics and making them feel valued.
[The collaboration] has developed recommendations on pay for diagnostic work and programs addressing technicians' sense of value — such as tenure awards, public recognition for outstanding service and team- building lunches.
Less than 1 percent of technicians are women. What can be done to recruit more women?
To attract more women, the industry must address both the perception and the reality.
For perception, we must undertake a broad, social network-based communication strategy aimed at potential female technicians, their parents and school counselors. We must explain the financial and career benefits and the excitement of working with leading-edge technology (EVs, autonomous vehicles, etc.).
As for reality, we need to change the way dealerships support women. Dealerships must commit to recruiting and hiring multiple female technicians. And once hired, dealerships need a new focus on training, mentoring, support and career development. Current (and new) female technicians must be the ambassadors to growing their ranks.
What are technicians excited about?
Satisfied technicians are excited about their co-workers. For techs who expect to stay in their current job, their working relationship with their co-workers is what they like most about their job. As a whole, many technicians seem to be excited about electric vehicles, with about a third saying they are looking forward to learning new skills or growing their career with EVs. While a third doesn't sound like a lot, it's quite substantial given the profound general dissatisfaction among technicians across the industry.