Help wanted signs are commonplace across all sectors of the service industry—while the automotive service sector is struggling as much as, and at times more than, the fast food or hospitality services. Many shops are simply struggling to build and then maintain their winning team. Across the country, efforts are being made to attract talent, but it is unclear whether all the openings can be filled.
“That’s the million-and-a-half-dollar question right now,” says Tom Staker, international director of new services and training at FullSpeed Automotive. “We are seeing that the entire service industry is having a problem in finding help, but automotive service has been hit especially hard,” admits Staker, citing a number of factors including the fact that the younger generation doesn’t have nearly as much interest in cars as their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers.
“We’re seeing a generation that doesn’t even care if they even have driver’s licenses, so that makes it really difficult to find younger workers today,” says Staker. “In the ‘old days,’ you were never without a stack of applications. The kids coming out of high school wanted to work on cars. We’re just not seeing that today.”
As a result, the entire industry needs to be more creative in finding talent. This includes having full-time employees who must work different adventures to attract new team members. That can include being present for career days at schools, and basically putting more emphasis on job opportunities.
More Emphasis on Onboarding
The next challenge in building a winning team is ensuring that those who have been hired will show up and then keep showing up. Plenty of service industries have to deal with brand new hires that quit after the first day, but since the “Great Resignation” that followed the pandemic, it became all too common for those new team members to be no-shows on the first day—or opt not to return after that.
“One of the issues we have been forced to take a look at is what onboarding now looks like post-pandemic,” says Staker. “We need to focus on onboarding so that new team members will go home after their first day and tell their friends and relatives how great it was to work at our shops.”
FullSpeed Automotive has adopted an approach that can let would-be hires know what to expect when they show up for work, and how they can see it transforming from a job to an actual career. This begins in the hiring process.
“We’re spending a lot of time making sure we’re keeping the talent, and this includes making sure that those applicants want to be part of a team,” explains Staker. “Most quick lubes are conducive to teamwork, and we need to be team-oriented in our business models. This may go without saying, but it was also something that we didn’t need to worry about just a few years ago.”
This is also true, and perhaps more so, of those applicants who are into cars. There are those individuals who love cars, but they still need to be part of a team for the operation to run smoothly.
“We’re seeing that in the interview process—even as it is harder to attract talent—that we need to ensure that we’re finding those right for a winning team. We have to make sure the candidate is the right fit,” Staker continues. “We’ve moved way past the, ‘You’re breathing, you’re upright, and so you’re hired.’”
The Guest Experience Business
Another consideration is to make it clear to that changing oil and servicing cars is the job, but the guest experience is actually the business they’re in.
“This might be hard for some to hear, but we’re not really in the ‘oil business,’ at all,” says Staker. “Everyone does it the same way, and this is clear to the consumers, who already think that all quick lube shops are the same. We have to accept that the industry isn’t all that innovative. But having said that, it comes to what business we’re in.”
As noted, this is really because like all retail services, it is about the guest experience. What you do is often less important than how you do it—and that includes every member of the team. Smiles from five people won’t be remembered if one employee presents a bad attitude.
“That is true in all of retail,” adds Staker. “But it is certainly true in automotive because we have to deal with the trust issues with our guests. This is why a team needs to be built around providing a great overall service that is more than a great oil change; it is about delivering a great guest experience.”
Staker says he’s never received a letter about the type of oil that goes into the cars, rather it is always about the team and the experience—good or bad. He also says he’s hopeful for a bright future for the industry.
“We can expect more challenges, but the industry is filled with fine, smart people,” Staker concludes. “I’m an optimist and I think we have smart folks out there, and we will come up with ways to keep our associates interested in the industry. We can expect it to change, but I continue to be optimistic.”