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Identifying interests can help place employees in an ideal role within the shop. (Photos: Huw Evans)

Understanding the needs of employees helps keep them within the shop and the collision repair industry.

At a time when the collision repair industry is facing a technician shortage crisis, recruiting and retaining good employees has become a critical requirement. The question is, does it suffice to look into one’s hiring needs only when there is a vacancy in the shop?

The answer is no, according to Randy Weber, Owner of CSN – Walkerton, Listowel and Owen Sound Collision Centres. “Try not to get caught in a pinch; always plan ahead in your recruiting,” advises Weber. “You must pre-determine the specialized skill that you require before you even begin with the recruitment process. And once you determine that, you need to post it internally first to build your team.” Weber also notes that it is important to take time and be proactive when looking for a new employee.

Recruitment strategies

With the amount of day-to-day work that a collision repair shop owner or manager has to do, the hiring process need not feel like an additional burden. According to Domenic Prochilo, Vice President of Operations at Simplicity Car Care, they can seek the help of human resource/ talent management professionals, many of whom are specifically dedicated to this industry. He further adds that it is crucial for shops to ensure that they have great leadership, especially the front-line staff in management. “People don’t necessarily leave jobs or industries because they didn’t like it. They leave management. When someone leaves, it is their way of firing the boss because they don’t want to work for them anymore,” he explains.

To attract good talent, it is essential that collision repair shops have the reputation of personnel development from within. “Promoting people internally to the next role assures new hires regarding a stable future in your business. And it is a great way of creating career plans for your staff,” notes Prochilo.

A healthy workplace reputation can be built by ensuring that existing employees are happy, the working environment is clean and professional, competitive compensation is provided and solid work benefits are available, according to Dean Fisher, President of CARSTAR North America. These factors help in attracting potential candidates. He further suggests getting involved with vocational schools by sponsoring programs or providing career day opportunities as they “not only create brand awareness about your facility, but also educate students on the opportunity within the collision repair industry and your facility in particular.”

Employee retention

Retaining good employees in one’s collision repair facility is not only a challenge in this competitive marketplace, but also a necessity. It is the shop’s responsibility to ensure that its employees are satisfied with their work and working conditions.

Randy Weber notes that it is important to listen to employees and be responsive. “Ask questions and try to identify if they are unhappy. They might not come to you directly and express their wishes, but you can always sense when they are a little unhappy,” he explains. He therefore suggests sitting down with them to understand what they really want from their job.

At Simplicity Car Care, Prochilo follows a similar approach with employees. “I call them ‘quarterly calibrations—one-on-one conversations with employees that allow them to open up,” he explains. Prochilo notes that shops need to identify what’s working and what’s not working for the person in their current situation, and whether they see a future in the repair facility. “If they don’t see themselves as having a future or as someone you intend to keep, you need to change that misconception because you want them around,” he says.

Besides understanding the needs of one’s employees, providing a conducive working environment aids immensely in employee retention. Maintaining a clean and professional working environment, including employee spaces like the break room, all go a long way, according to Dean Fisher. “Removing clutter and waste helps ensure you are in adherence with safety and workplace regulations while also making sure the environment where staff spend eight or more hours of their day is a pleasant one,” he adds. “Paying technicians well, providing benefits, offering employee appreciation gestures—these are all things owners can implement to retain good employees.”

Regular discussions and feedback can go a long way to boosting employee retention.

Building a career path

It is possible at times for employees to consider leaving not only the shop that they are working in but also the collision repair industry as a whole. It is critical to build a career path for everyone to ensure that they are able to see a future for themselves on the path that they are in.

“Although you may be in need of an experienced technician now, investing in people outside of the industry and providing on-the-job training is an alternative way to build top talent,” notes Fisher. “Oftentimes, employees will be grateful for the opportunity and the career path you built for them; they will be long-lasting employees.”

Weber notes that there could be situations where employees who have worked in a particular department for years really wish to work in a different department. He suggests putting a career plan in place for such employees after the shop identifies this issue. “Get their job role filled first and then support them on their new career path. If it does not work out, let them go back to their previous department. That is the flexibility a shop can have,” he explains.

Defining a career path for an individual can start from the recruitment process itself. Instead of focusing on how many shops the prospective hire has worked in, in a particular role, the interview should be about getting to know that person, according to Prochilo. “Get to know the person because when you have open conversations, what their likes are, what they do in their spare time, you may find that they are very technical and have hobbies that require certain skillsets,” he says.

Prochilo has faced a similar situation where a potential employee who applied for an estimator position liked assembling model airplanes. “Once I realised how meticulous one needs to be for such a hobby, I felt that this person may not be the strongest estimator but would be a great repair planner.” He notes that the person took up the repair planning position and performed very well; he is currently a journeyman technician and very happy with his job.

Employers conduct interviews when they wish to hire and exit interviews when someone is leaving. Prochilo recommends conducting “stay interviews”. “Find out what their career path is like, if we are on track. What are some of the things they like, what could the collision centre do to make it more conducive to their goals and desires. It is compelling for an employee to see that someone cares so much. These are easy questions to ask but are questions that are very rarely asked,” he says.

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