AutoNation Inc., the largest U.S. new-vehicle retailer, is joining other public dealership groups in redoubling its efforts to hire service technicians.
In most AutoNation markets, "every role in the service area" is short of technicians at all levels of experience, says Marc Cannon, the company's chief marketing officer. "Bottom line, we want to grow service," he says.
AutoNation said last week it seeks to add 500 technicians, for both its dealership service departments and its growing network of company-branded collision repair centers. The company did not say how many technicians it currently employs.
The group, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., operates 244 dealerships in the United States and sold 310,839 new vehicles in 2018, according to the latest Automotive News ranking of the 150 largest U.S. dealership groups.
The company is about three years into a $500 million brand extension program that includes its 83 collision centers, stand-alone used-car stores, and AutoNation-branded parts and accessories as well as finance and insurance products.
Adding body shops has created greater demand for service techs, Cannon says. AutoNation opened nine collision centers in 2018 and acquired two more, the company said in its annual report. Cannon told Automotive News the group plans to continue opening collision centers, but declined to specify a growth target.
Across the industry, auto retailers report that demand is up for technicians, citing a recovery in new-vehicle sales since the Great Recession, along with a major increase in recalls. Dealerships are under pressure to increase profits from fixed operations, to make up for flat or declining new-vehicle sales in recent years.
A high rate of attrition makes the technician shortage worse as older, experienced techs retire and an insufficient number of entry-level techs join the work force.
According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, U.S. technical colleges and training programs graduate about 37,000 service technicians each year. But retailers need about 76,000 new techs annually, NADA estimates, just to keep pace with job creation and retirements and resignations.
"There are a lot of issues," said Harry Hollenberg, managing director of the research and consulting firm Carlisle & Co., "in terms of not having enough technicians, in terms of retaining the techs we do have, in terms of the job satisfaction of existing techs across the industry."
A Carlisle survey last year of nearly 35,000 dealership service technicians in the United States and Canada found that just one in four techs expressed high overall satisfaction with the job, far below the levels of service managers (57 percent), parts managers (44 percent) and service advisers (42 percent).
"The industry understands it's got a problem," Hollenberg says. "Everybody has initiatives — the OEMs, the public dealer groups, NADA, the training schools — but for the most part, they are uncoordinated."