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Tips to recruiting and retaining technicians

 

Recruiting technicians for your shop can be an obstacle course but losing them shortly after is even worse. That’s why retention is an essential part of recruitment; otherwise all the hiring efforts would be like attempting to fill a leaky bucket.

More than half of the vacant technician positions are actually replacements for people who retire, leave for a competitor or simply quit the trucking industry, underlined George Arrants, Chair of the TMC SuperTech competition during a Mobil DelvacTM presentation at the Mid-America Trucking Show. So understanding why technicians leave your organization would be the first step towards plugging that leak.

Exit interviews can provide valuable information in that regard and help not repeat the same mistakes. “A lot of times it doesn’t have anything to do with money. It’s about how we’re treated in the shop and the shop conditions,” Arrants – a former tech himself – added.

A well organized, clean and safe shop is more likely to attract quality candidates. Techs are a logical-minded breed and appreciate order. Your facility’s and trucks’ overall looks will also have an influence on potential applicants’ opinion about your company. A Christmas tree still at the reception in June and dirty trucks will make useless any speech about work ethics and quality being a priority.

Word of mouth also goes a long way in a tightly knit industry. Drivers discuss among themselves at truck stops – and on Facebook – and those who praise their maintenance department because their equipment never lets them down can generate a fabulous publicity.

Drivers are also part of the technician retention process as they can help your maintenance staff feel valued and obtain firsthand feedback on their skills’ outcomes. “We virtually don’t meet the drivers anymore. The trucks are all taken in and out by jockeys,” said Pierre-Luc Giguère, technician at Excellence Peterbilt in the Montreal area in a recent interview to Truck News to emphasize the importance of human contact in understanding and fixing any mechanical issue.

Good communication between the maintenance management and the human resources department is also vital to make sure that hiring criteria are not interpreted in an excessively stringent manner and quality applicants rejected before you even get to meet them. If you were to apply for your own company, ask yourself if you’d make it through the system, Arrants advises.

Know the competition

Good technicians are coveted by many other fleets, but also by other activity sectors such as mining or industrial maintenance for example. While compensation might be higher in other industries, they may not offer as much stability and home time as you could. Such arguments can be particularly enticing to the younger generation, whether you call them “Ys” or “millennials”.

Your fleet, too, can look at diverse workforce pools for technicians. Women, aboriginals and immigrants are vastly underrepresented in Canada’s truck maintenance shops, while military veterans often have a good mechanical knowledge background. As do many young people who grew up on a farm surrounded by heavy pieces of machinery, advises Mike Morvilius, vice president of maintenance at Moore Transport in Indiana.

Establishing and maintaining strong relationships with local technical schools is also vital, as approximately 80% of the future technicians already are employed by the time they graduate, stresses Yves Dagenais, assistant director at the CFTR training centre in the Montreal area. It means you need to get involved with the youth as soon as possible.

The involvement could take the form of a scholarship program sponsorship or participation in the curriculum development. You can’t expect schools to be in tune with the industry needs without getting input from it.

Attending or sponsoring tuning events or motorized competitions can also help connect with future technicians. The majority of them are interested in “how things work” and many of today’s best used to dismantle cars or motorcycles as teenagers. That interest only needs to be steered towards trucks.

The automotive industry can also represent an interesting recruitment area. Car technicians feel right at home around hydraulic disc brakes and gasoline engines, features that are more and more common in medium-duty trucks, just as air disc brakes are on bigger Class 8 tractors and trailers.

The technology that’s omnipresent in modern trucks can also serve your recruiting efforts. “Using and managing these new technologies requires the types of skills that younger generations of workers desire in a career – including analytical thinking, computer science, and more,” says Leah Ritter, Mobil Delvac™ brand and strategy advisor.

At the other end of the spectrum, you want to retain your experienced technicians as they are an invaluable source of knowledge and can guide new recruits through their apprenticeship as mentors, a rewarding experience for both parties. “I do enjoy helping guys learn a lot better than doing it for them,” said Dan Orser, technician at Babine Truck and Equipment in Prince George, B.C., and Volvo VISTA competitions veteran to Truck Tech magazine when referring to his interest in mentorship.

Professional development

Organizing friendly diagnostics competitions among your technicians can contribute to foster their appreciation of teamwork and sense of belonging. “I think it’s a good outlet to get a grasp at where you stand and what areas you need to improve on. It helps you develop as a technician, not just in the competition but on the floor on a daily basis,” said Wade Robinson to Truck Tech magazine. As a Ryder technician at the London, Ont., branch, Robinson shined at the company’s Top Tech competition.

Technicians’ thirst for knowledge could also be quenched by handing them tickets to maintenance seminars or trade shows where they could have the opportunity to meet the engineers who actually designed the equipment they work on every day. Performance or appreciation bonuses don’t always have to be in cash money. Yet, paid referrals are always appreciated.

Any solid, long-lasting relationship relies on transparency and your job postings should honestly reflect the reality of your fleet and type of maintenance tasks you expect to be performed. The social media should definitely be part of your technician job openings advertising strategy to reach out to different generations. Job aggregator sites such as Indeed can also contribute to any recruitment effort.

Working on the trade’s image is also essential, as it still suffers from old stigmas. “There’s a perception among many in the general population that diesel technicians and other types of mechanics work low-tech, ‘dirty’ jobs, but that simply isn’t true. The reality is that the job has evolved significantly. To be a successful diesel technician, you need skills and talents that are often associated with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers such as computer engineering or electrical engineering,” Ritter says.

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