Lack of awareness, wage gaps and lack of structured positions are major concerns, say jobbers.
Inspiring youngsters to seek careers within the automotive industry is an industry-wide problem that is faced by all segments today; the scenario is no different for jobbers. This challenge is a particularly critical one since a major part of the workforce is due to retire in the not-so-distant future.
For jobbers, finding and hiring good counter people continues to be a significant challenge. “It seems that not many people are coming into the trade, whether it is counter people or parts technicians. I believe it is because our industry is not out there in front of people,” says Gary Thibault, President of The Partsman. He explains that when people see a beautiful building, they are inspired to be architects. Since electricians and plumbers are regularly called into homes to fix things, students are able to see the potential in these careers. “Going in for car repairs is usually not a happy ‘purchase’. So, they are not inspired to sell parts or work under the car,” he adds. According to Thibault, youngsters may not even be aware of a career path as a counter person in a jobber store.
More technical roles
While there is still a considerable influx of people into the industry, the majority of them are going into the more technically skilled roles and positions, notes Zakari Krieger, Director of Business Operations at Barton Auto Parts. “They are either training to be technicians or training for other office positions in the business. Not many are ready to start at the bottom on an automotive parts distribution network and work their way up to become properly trained counter people,” he says.
This, he finds, is due to the considerable gap in wages between what a technician with automotive skills and certification earns ($35 to $40 an hour) versus what a counter person can potentially earn. “How to attract counter people is a big challenge for us jobbers. We have to therefore consider whether there is enough advancement for them within the networks. And whether they are trained on business elements or their sole focus is on answering the phone and solving customers’ issues,” remarks Krieger.
Another challenge, Krieger notes, are the rapid advancements in computer technology. “So much of the business is transitioning to online, that as the future parts book-ups and online cataloguing continue to evolve, the position may become redundant,” he explains. People coming into the industry are looking for a career with future stability. As younger people who are more fluent with the latest computer technology transition into these roles, it creates a kind of obsolescence for the traditional counter person, according to Krieger.
Thibault has encountered a different problem when trying to hire counter personnel. A college near him had a course for the job and his employee who attended it found it quite useful. So, when the store had a need for two counter people, Thibault called the college for contacts of people who had passed the course. “They flat out refused to give the information but promised to notify them regarding the opening. We never received a phone call. So, the course was ultimately useless to the real world,” he notes.
When Thibault needs a new counter person, he asks his existing counter staff to look up leads since they are the ones in contact with different segments of the industry. “They know people and can find out if someone is looking for a career change or location change,” he explains. Word of mouth has been the best source of advertisement for him over the past two decades. He also advertises on the store’s electronic billboard, lists the opening on the company’s website and uses technology as much as possible to get the word out.
Thibault laments that there are no “head hunters” for “blue collar jobs” such as “counter people” positions. “There are people who can find a manager or a president for a company, but they are not interested in these jobs,” he adds.
Online recruiting tools
Krieger believes in using the array of online recruiting platforms available, such as Indeed and ZipRecruiter. “We post great position profiles and make sure that we are paying top dollar within the industry. We also provide fringe benefits such as health benefits and potential bonuses. At the same time, we maintain and promote a positive work culture. If you don’t do these things, big corporations like Canadian Tire can provide these benefits and take away good potential candidates,” explains Krieger.
He notes that for small jobber businesses, there is more flexibility in the business but less procedural and operational dynamics. If good counter people are already placed within a structured organisation in a structured position and are happy there, it is a real challenge to recruit those people away.
Both Thibault and Krieger find that there is a lack of formal training available for counter people. Thibault’s own staff have not found any online training options available for them. Training is important for counter people, especially because they deal with both wholesale and retail customers, according to Thibault. “They have to have the knowledge about the parts and quality. You can have five different qualities of brake pads. They need to know and be able to explain to customers that the difference is not just in the price but also in the quality and function,” he explains. In his store, the new counter staff are trained by observing experienced counter staff and asking questions when in doubt.
Krieger hires counter staff based on prior experience within the business, even if they haven’t worked on the counter. “We hired a new manager for our store, and we have been training him on the counter. We did not want to hire a bad fit for the company who is a great counter person. We believe in hiring the right person for the business and then training him/her through our experience and expertise to become a good counter person,” he explains. To keep his counter staff constantly up-to-date, his store uses a Microsoft office portal where they post information on new products and technical tips. His staff also has access to online training through NAPA. “I think that the idea of the counter person is limited in its scope, and we need to understand that there’s a bigger picture that we need to address when we are looking at recruiting them. If you are training them, you have to ensure that they have good business acumen and great understanding of everything that surrounds the business as well,” says Krieger.
He also believes that a counter person doesn’t need to be a parts expert to use the parts catalogue. “They need to be computer literate, have a fundamental understanding of parts and vehicles and know how to work the parts catalogue so that they understand the different categories and what connects to what,” says Krieger. “If there is anything missing on those catalogues, they need to know what questions to ask other experienced counter people to gain further insight and experience.”