Technical difficulties

by Sonia Straface

LOUISVILLE, Ken. — There’s a technician shortage, experts say, that’s only getting worse. The solution? According to one maintenance manager – forget about your human resources (HR) department.

In a panel discussion at the 2018 Fleet Maintenance Forum hosted by Mobil Delvac, experts talked about what they are doing to attract and retain the best technicians in their shops.

Panelists included Mike Morvilius, vice-president of maintenance for Moore Transport; Ken Shafer, director of maintenance and tank cleaning for Superior Carriers; and Jerry Clemons, program coordinator and faculty member at the Elizabethtown Community & Technical College.

According to Morvilius, the method in which he’s found his best technicians has been through open and honest conversations and interviews, with virtually no input from Moore Transport’s human resources department.

“I opened our first shop three years ago from scratch and I had extreme luck with the technicians and mechanics I was hiring through word of mouth,” he recalled.

“And then, I lost a few guys and I asked our HR department to help in replacing them. It had been a month and I didn’t see one application come through. And in the area, I know there are techs around that would at least have a conversation about what the job entailed.”

Morvilius, confused at this point, said he found out that people were indeed applying for the position but would be rejected by the HR department because they felt the applicants didn’t meet certain criteria.

“I’ve never been a big fan of criteria,” he said. “We all have a past and I try to look at the paper and the person and have a conversation with them. So I had HR step aside on our hiring process. And two of the best technicians I have today have come from that process and they would have never made it through HR. One, because he had a record when he was younger and he was up front and honest about it. He told me he was in a bad situation, but we brought him in and we put him on a short leash and outlined the expectations and he has delivered tenfold and I couldn’t be happier with having him as part of our family in the shop. I really don’t like the screening process that a lot of HR does.”

Shafer said while his company still uses its HR department, he is a big believer in having thorough interviews with potential technicians.

“We will sit down with them and discuss their history and expectations and then we’ll bring them onboard,” he said.

In addition, the company also conducts exit interviews with technicians who leave the company to go to another, so they can measure what they should be doing to better their retention.

“We ask ‘What did we do to fail you? What can we do better to keep you?’” Shafer said.

The biggest key to retention, according to panelists, is family.

“A lot of what we do is focused on family,” Morvilius said. “We encourage guys to bring in their kids when they need to. And we even have some guys, who have high school (aged) kids, and will bring them in to clean and polish the trucks, and we pay them for that. We have one mechanic, and his wife comes in once a month to cook lunch for everyone. We really encourage the family atmosphere to keep the guys here more.”

In a similar vein, Shafer said that at Superior Carriers, the managers are always keeping up to date and touching base with technicians on a personal level.

“They are always talking to the techs,” he said.

Both Shafer and Morvilius agreed that some technicians they hire straight out of school aren’t equipped to handle the job at first.

“The guys are coming in and they aren’t trained on what they need to do,” Shafer said.

To solve this problem, Clemons said to get involved with schools and tell them what needs to be taught today.

Clemons also advised companies to get involved with local tech schools sooner rather than later as more than 60% of graduates at Elizabethtown already have jobs secured before their graduation date.

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