Engaging the Next Generation of Technicians

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Devin Purcell is a Red Seal Automotive Technician with over 20 years of experience and a professor at Fanshawe College, London, Ont., in the School of Transportation Technology and Apprenticeship. You can reach him at [email protected] or find more of his opinions at autoknowit.com. Photo Devin Purcell

Effective recruitment strategies for independent shops in era of labour shortages.

As far as the labour market for independent shops in the automotive industry goes, things are tough. Finding a good employee seems to be as easy as finding a needle in a haystack. This doesn’t even include finding a top-tier technician or service advisor to join your ranks. So, what can an independent shop do to ensure that they are not just hiring the next warm body that walks through the door? 

One part of solving this issue is by creating a sound recruiting strategy to find excellent prospects that can fill your desks and service bays. When I mention the word recruiting, I am not trying to conjure up bad experiences with those pesky recruitment firms, but I am talking about a quality in-house recruitment strategy.

Start early

If you look at major league sports, recruitment starts early. Baseball, for example, will see Division 1 college baseball teams starting to recruit players during their junior year in High School. It may seem a little bit early to start and look for players to fill your roster so early, but it is important to get in front of the other teams to get your hands on the best of the best. If you don’t, your competition will. 

If we use this strategy and apply it to our industry, this simply means getting in front of the best future technicians that are coming through the ranks. The ranks, just like baseball, mean getting in front of students that are in the motive power trades classes in high school. This strategy can also be used for automotive students that move into college and are taking trades classes at the college level.

Getting in front of the best technicians can look very different depending on your shop and your willingness to get involved. One of the best ways that you can do this is by simply raising awareness of what your shop does and the professionalism that you are building in the industry. Think about how you can sell or show this to the students, which after all are prospective future employees. 

Building relationships

The first step to pulling off this strategy is networking and building relationships with the teachers and instructors at the local high schools and colleges in the area. Don’t just send them a LinkedIn connection but give them a call and see if you can meet them at the school and get a tour of the facilities. While you are there, discuss what you could do for their students to increase the relevancy of their learning.

Today’s prospective tradespeople love to see new technology and how it affects our day-to-day lives in the industry. Perhaps your shop just purchased a new ADAS calibration device or a new lab scope. Set up an hour “show and tell” that you could take into the class and show the new, and latest, greatest equipment that technicians are using. 

A little bit harder to pull off but even more valuable in experience is getting the chance to have the students come to your shop for a personal tour. This is a little harder to orchestrate today, due to modern insurance regulations and school codes, but do not rule out this amazing opportunity for students to get a firsthand view of what your shop has to offer. 

This type of learning experience is what students love to see. Not only does it provide the opportunity for the students to gain a direct look at what it is to be an automotive technician today, but it also provides them with the chance to get to know you better. Maybe you can even take a few moments to talk about the difference that you have made in your employees’ lives. You could discuss wages that technicians can obtain, benefits, RRSP contributions, and other things that you make available to your employees when they come to work for you. 


Another great option that we can take from sports is the scholarship. Before you think I have gotten too carried away, I am not talking about a full-ride scholarship that a sports superstar might get awarded. I am thinking of a small, $1000-$2000 scholarship or grant that you give to the high school senior that got the best grades in automotive shop class.

Even though a scholarship seems like a great deal of money to “give away”, I view it as marketing. After all, where can you get such a hyper-targeted ad in front of most eligible job seekers? If you’ve ever run a large-scale radio ad, you know this kind of initiative is a great deal.

Once these students start working in your shop and begin their apprenticeships, your technicians will be able to start them on their learning journey. Creating a lifelong journeyperson that will continue to prosper in the trades. 

While these are all great ideas for building great recruitment strategies, they all take work. There is no way you can create an effective recruitment strategy without ongoing relationship-building and networking with professionals in the industry. However, when it comes to a student asking a mentor where they might get their first job in the automotive industry or an apprenticeship. You can be assured that your shop’s name will be at the top of everybody’s mind when it comes to suggestions. 



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