Finding a Diamond in the Rough

Oct. 13, 2021
As the economy continues to recover from the pandemic, finding good employees has become a significant challenge.

The unemployment rate hit an astronomical 14.8 percent across the country in 2020. Even now, in the waning months of the outbreak as the economy slowly gets back on track and employment starts returning to average, employers are struggling to find and retain dedicated workers.

The bottom line is simple: It’s hard to find employees and even harder to find good ones.

That reinforces how important it is to get it right the first time when going through the hiring process.

Now that many federal and state unemployment benefits programs put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic are expiring, though, many economists are projecting more people will soon start looking for jobs, but how potential employees approach those jobs has drastically changed since the pandemic started. 

Team-Oriented, Customer-Focused

David Haney, owner of Oil and Lube Express in Magnolia, Ark., says that first and foremost, people need to understand what kind of work they’re getting themselves into when they apply at his shop.

“You’re dealing with customers, regardless of what industry you’re in…that’s just the bottom line,” Haney says. “If you take care of your customer, they will take care of you.”

Haney worked as a store manager for Walmart and then moved to a pharmacy in Missouri before making the jump to the quick lube industry 13 years ago. Though the services provided by all three are vastly different, he says good customer service and great work ethic should be expected regardless of the industry.

“When I’m looking for a hood tech or a pit tech, they don’t have to know the first thing about a car. I’d rather they have the character and the good customer service, the friendly and talkative personality that has a good attitude toward work and people,” he says. “It’s easy to teach tasks. It’s hard to teach personality.”

In addition to finding someone who works well with customers, Haney says he tries to find people who will work well with his existing team. During his time with Walmart, he picked up a hiring committee technique in which he’ll have several of his employees talk to a potential new hire to get a feel for how they might interact with the team.

“The last thing you need is somebody who is causing issues and trouble,” he says. “That can be more disrupting than anything.” 

Craig Stout, a former U.S. Marines recruiter for nearly 20 years now working for dealership recruiting agency AutoPeople, agrees that the ability to cooperate well with the team in the shop is crucial.

“The people that were part of organized sports teams or organized clubs means they’re good with working with other people. That’s a quality most businesses, not just specifically this one, (look for),” Stout says. “Having that experience definitely sets you apart.” 

And with turnover rate as high as it is in the quick oil and lube industry, matched with the grueling work that can be involved, Haney says sometimes people with less-than-stellar backgrounds are perfect for the job, so long as they’re willing to make amends and put in the work—two people with convictions currently work in Haney’s shop.

“People make mistakes. I don’t hold a grudge, and if they’ve served their time, they’ve done what they need to do,” Haney says. “They’re both young guys and they just screwed up. They wanted to get away from that and get out of that.”

Still, both Haney and Stout admit it’s a mixed bag when going through the interview process. 

“You never know about people sometimes. Sometimes the people you think are the most dependable actually aren’t, and the guys you think aren’t actually are. Some people surprise you.” 

In most instances, potential employees will do what they can to put their best foot forward through the initial hiring and onboarding process. Once they start to get comfortable with their new environment, though, their true work ethic and behavioral patterns start to show. 

“You never know until you hire somebody. It’s hard in an interview process to sit down with someone and know ‘OK, this guy’s going to be a keeper,’” Haney says. “The first impression is always the best indication...but you never know what you’re going to get until you actually hire them and get them in the mix.” 

Internal Development

Stout says there’s another option to try and avoid the headaches of hiring: don’t do it. 

Instead, he suggests focusing on your current team and finding ways to incentivize them to stay. 

“What I hear a lot from technicians is that they want to be appreciated, they want to feel valued. If somebody’s constantly getting beat up on … instead of hearing ‘Hey, you’re doing a good job, we appreciate you,’ it doesn’t make for a great working environment,” Stout says. “I hope the industry catches up in taking care of these guys.” 

Both Stout and Haney say high turnover, especially at the hood and pit tech positions, and constantly trying to fill open positions are expected obstacles in the industry.

“In the quick lube industry, you’re getting people who are young and are trying to decide what they’re going to do, if they want to go to college or not, or what direction they want to go,” Haney says. “It’s not a career job.”

Given the nature of the job, both Stout and Haney say it is hard to keep people around if a better opportunity comes around. Even still, investing even a little bit in current employees can help keep them around for longer than they otherwise would.

“I always try to pay my employees a little bit better than what most people pay so that I can reward them for the job they’re doing and I’m not worrying about having to replace them,” Haney says.

Streamlining the Process

In order to keep things running smoothly, sometimes going through a third-party hiring agency can provide some much-needed assistance.

Haney’s business uses a temp agency that takes candidates through the initial onboarding process and handles the responsibilities that an HR department normally would.

Haney says he still does his own interviewing in order to make the best determination about a future employee, but once they’re hired they go through that third-party contractor.

“It streamlines the process and saves me money in the long run,” he says.

In addition to streamlining the actual hiring process, Haney adds that streamlining the entire operation of a shop is critical with the hiring shortage as bad as it is. Until it turns around, finding and keeping good employees will be a tough task.

“Get by with as few people as you possibly can,” Haney says. “Do some due diligence on the front end … but you’re never going to know. It’s like buying a used car. It might look good on the surface, but is there a problem with the transmission? Is there an issue with the engine? Sometimes you get a jewel, and sometimes you get a headache.”