Auto Shop Coaching Blog

Strategies to Hire & Train High-Performance Teams

Hiring reliable and skilled auto body technicians was challenging pre-pandemic and has become even more complicated now. Fewer people are going through trade programs, and most experienced techs can easily find attractive job opportunities.

Conversely, hiring less qualified individuals is more likely to result in costly turnovers and harm long-term performance and morale.

One of the most common questions we get when coaching clients is how to hire and retain a high-performance team without breaking the bank.

Before Hiring, Maximize Retention

Hiring a new employee is always much more costly and disruptive than retaining an existing one. In addition to the cost of hiring and training, there’s always a risk that they would be the right cultural fit for your company, forcing you to start all over.

So, when reading this guide, apply the same tips to your existing employees (even if you’re not actively hiring) to encourage them to stick around and improve.

If one of your experienced techs is retiring, try to keep them on part-time and modify their role to diagnostics. Keeping them around can help pass on knowledge to younger and more inexperienced technicians and maintain a high level of service.

Build Local Connections

High school and post-secondary level automotive programs are an excellent place to look for new talent. Try getting involved in these local programs and inviting the school to the shop for a visit and hands-on experience.

You might also offer an apprenticeship where students visit your shop for a few hours weekly to watch, learn, and work. It’s a win-win scenario for everyone: The tech gets hands-on experience, and you might end up with an entry-level technician.

Platforms like WrenchWay can help you build these connections with schools and offer shop tours, apprenticeships, speaking engagements, or tool and equipment donations to help the next generation get started.

Improve the Work Environment

Sure, some people are just looking for the highest salary, but older and more experienced techs may prioritize a comfortable work environment. While high-quality PPE to help protect your employees is a bare minimum requirement, the best workplaces go above and beyond to make their employees more comfortable daily.

For example, purchasing car hoists rather than floor jacks, jack stands, creepers, and pits reduces the need to constantly bend or lie down on a hard floor. This has the added benefit of reducing workplace injuries and allowing techs to get more done in less time. Drive-through bays with hoists can even improve metrics like shop space utilization!

Want to see the importance of investing in these technologies? Just look at the caliber of technicians working in a well-funded OEM dealership versus an auto body shop.

Encourage Work-Life Balance

Most employees work to live rather than live to work, and that’s okay. However, you can’t expect a highly skilled technician with a family to prioritize your business over their children.

Instead, try to cultivate a healthy work-life balance. Don’t always rely on a skeleton crew where someone calling in sick causes everyone else to work unexpected overtime. If there’s an emergency, make it easy to fill someone’s spot and adapt.

Many employees may also be willing to sacrifice some pay for more time off, especially those with families. Research shows that PTO enables employees to avoid unplanned absences while improving post-vacation performance.

Pay Techs a Fair Wage

Money isn’t everything – but it doesn’t hurt!

You should offer compensation on par with other companies in your area. If you can’t afford to pay top dollar, you can lean on the other advice we’ve covered, but it’s not always enough to attract the top talent. According to Indeed, the average technician earns $72,942 per year with a high of $109,313 and a low of $48,673.

Beyond a headline salary, a 401(k), health insurance, life insurance, vision insurance, dental insurance, parental leave, employee discounts, and other perks can help make a job feel more like a career. And that can help improve retention.

Ensure the Right Cultural Fit

David Friedman’s book, Fundamentally Different, stresses the importance of shared values to business success.

In the book, he encourages leaders to develop “fundamentals” that communicate core values for the business. Some examples of core values might include “blameless problem solving,” “punctuality,” or “appearance counts.”

When evaluating a new hire, you should look beyond their qualifications and ensure they buy into these core values. That way, you can reduce the inevitable turnover when employees realize they are not fitting in.

You can even invite them to spend some time at the shop to observe these principles outside of a formal interview. 

Create a Smooth Hiring Process

Once applicants are excited about the prospect of working with you, it’s essential to keep them engaged throughout the application and hiring process.

Offering both a digital and pen-and-paper application process can help maximize your talent pool. Once an applicant becomes a candidate, efficiently move them through each step of the hiring process, including skills assessments, background checks, reference checks, interviewing, and all the other parts of the process.

Mastery, Autonomy & Purpose

Once you’ve hired an employee, you need to train and retain them, and the best way to do that is to focus on building intrinsic motivation.

Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, argues that human motivation is intrinsic and driven by mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

Creating a work environment where employees are constantly learning (mastery), can make decisions on their own (autonomy), and have a clear career path (purpose) can help incentivize top-quality talent and dramatically increase retention.

To promote mastery, you might provide tuition reimbursement for ASE certifications, let techs work on exciting projects typically outside their scope, or provide a career pathway to managerial positions where they’re constantly learning new things.

Autonomy means trusting techs to make decisions. Micromanagement is the number one frustration for many experienced techs. So, even if it’s hard to let go of some control as an owner, you’ll be much better off over the long term.

And finally, purpose depends largely on your organization. Experienced techs might find purpose in an apprenticeship program that helps them mentor those just getting started or with career paths that involve bonuses or even equity. 

The Bottom Line

Hiring and retaining top-performing teams has become increasingly challenging over the years. While keeping up with higher wages in an era of compressed margins can be difficult, there are many non-financial perks that you can leverage to improve employee happiness, job satisfaction, and long-term retention rates.

If you want to learn more strategies, find an event near you today!

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The ATI Experts comprises a collective effort of ATI's seasoned coaches, harnessing their extensive knowledge, hands-on experience, and track record of achievements. This collaboration aims to deliver actionable strategies tailored to enhance the performance and success of repair and collision shop owners.