In Fixing the Auto Technician Shortage, Shop Owners Should Look to Hospitals

Nurses and auto techs share a lot; both are heady and complex jobs that are especially difficult to hire for. Why, and what can we learn from healthcare?

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Conceptual Minds | August 28, 2023

In Fixing the Auto Technician Shortage, Shop Owners Should Look to Hospitals

At this point, you’ve probably read the alarming statistic: five openings for every applicant, and it’s poised to worsen soon.
With the technician shortage in its third year, we at Conceptual Minds decided to pull out all the stops and deliver a definitive guide to attracting and retaining auto tech talent.
We’ll start by examining how the healthcare industry is progressing on a remarkably similar staffing struggle before we compare notes and delve into today’s auto techs’ significant issues with status-quo auto repair shops, offering many recommendations.

What Do Auto Techs Have in Common With Frontline Nurses?

Nurses and auto tech jobs share a lot.
Both are heady and complex jobs, requiring a specialized education but not a four-year degree (Depending on the kind of nurse). Both also have remarkably similar compensation rates—the average nurse salary is $47K, $44k for auto techs, and high turnover rates—27.1% and 46%, respectively.
Nurses rate their career happiness as low; their 2.7 out of 5 happiness rating on Career Explorer puts them in the bottom 13 percent of careers. Mechanics enjoy a slightly happier career, 3 out of 5, in the bottom 31 percent of careers.
While there are significant differences—which we’ll discuss a little later—healthcare is a significantly larger and better-researched industry. The numerous changes hospitals made to accommodate the nurse workforce tell us a great deal about how the auto repair industry can respond. 

How COVID-19 Accelerated Already-High Turnover

Even before the pandemic left medical workers reeling, Frontline nurses held a high 17 percent turnover rate (compare).
Once COVID-19 hit, this already tense situation was made worse. Between fiscal year 2020 and 2021, RN staff turnover grew to 27%. The industry lost 100,000 RNs by the end of 2021, a “far greater” drop than in 40 years.
This enormous exodus caused concern in the healthcare industry. Researchers from McKinsey & Company followed 368 frontline nurses between 2020 and 2022 to uncover why some left their jobs and others stayed. This is what they learned.

Ranking the Factors That Improved Retention or Boosted Turnover 

When asked to rank the factors influencing their decision to stay in their positions, frontline nurses revealed the following priorities. 
  1. Doing Meaningful Work – 82%
  2. Positive interactions – 69%
  3. Having caring and trusting teammates – 69%
  4. Good health – 65%
  5. Safe environment – 64%
  6. Feeling engaged by work – 63%
  7. Flexible work schedule – 62%
  8. Work-life balance – 62%
  9. Manageable workload – 61%
  10. Sense of belonging – 61%
Perhaps surprisingly, pay and benefits rank remarkably low. We see our first flexible work schedule at seven. Compensation doesn’t register until the 13th spot. 
Overall, their priorities center around the day-to-day: pleasant teammates, a balanced work-life, and a fulfilled sense of purpose. This tells us that a positive and reassuring work environment is outsized in keeping employees satisfied. 
This perspective is primarily backed up when you examine the corresponding ranking of factors nurses say caused them to leave their jobs. 
  1. Feeling undervalued by the organization – 52%
  2. Inadequate compensation – 52%
  3. No work-life balance 51%
  4. UN-manageable workload – 46%
  5. Better job – 43%
  6. Not valued by manager 41%
  7. Not a safe work environment – 31%
  8. No flexible work schedules – 26%
  9. No sense of belonging – 23%
  10. Negative interactions – 23%
Again, we see the flipside of many of the same environmental factors—frequent negative interactions, feeling unnoticed, underappreciated, and disconnected from the rest of the team. 
Listed at number five, we have the variable many managers lose sleep over employees finding a better job. While researchers didn’t comment on this finding, it again suggests that negative environmental factors may push nurses out of jobs long before a better offer does. 
We also see inadequate compensation very high. Researchers don’t speculate why it’s listed so high here but so much lower in the prior list. It’s possible pay isn’t as high a priority until it drops below a preferred income range. Moderate to low pay may also feel more bothersome if workers feel under-appreciated by management, coworkers, and patients.

Significant Findings On Hospitals' Nurse Retention Efforts

Hospitals around the US responded to this staffing issue with a wide array of workplace changes. The study’s authors point to a few key findings on retention.
Among them:
  • Recognition and flexible scheduling: Recognizing nurses for their contribution and incorporating more flexibility into work schedules had the most significant impact on retention and well-being
  • Flexible work: One health center brought back 25% of previously departed nurses by offering significantly more flexible work schedules
  • Work environment upgrades: Creating employee well-being centers with VR headsets, aromatherapy, sound machines, snacks, and beverages positively impacted engagement, well-being, and burnout.
  • The power of recognition: Turnover was reduced 36% when nurses received at least one note of recognition from their managers reduced turnover by 36% (according to Wrench Way surveys, 48% of technicians prefer a small gift, while 33% would rather hear it in a conversation with their manager.)
Here, we see many retention variables again: recognition, flexibility, and a nice place to spend a break, substantially easing turnover. 
We also see the positive impact of many modest changes meant to make working a more pleasant and accommodating experience. 
While we’re on the subject, we should note that a 2020 Carlisle Auto Technician Satisfaction Survey showed that the happiest techs feel supported and recognized by their bosses, like their coworkers, and have a clear career path.
The study’s authors also point out that being known as an excellent workplace eases some pressure off wages. Hospitals seen as great places to work compensated nurses 11 percent less than those without such a reputation.

How the Auto Repair Industry's Tech Problem Compares 

There’s a great deal of similarity between the tech shortage and the medical industry’s nurse retention issues. That said, there are several substantial differences worth noting. 
After reviewing several auto technician surveys, we’ve identified an additional five additional areas of improvement:
  • Salary & the compensation model  
  • Advancement & cross-training  
  • Improved shop floor conditions 
  • More detailed job postings  

#1. It's Not Just the Pay, It's the Compensation Model, Too

It goes without saying that compensation is a core part of the tech shortage problem. 
The aforementioned median salary is $46,880, according to US News and World Report, with the lowest-paid quartile making $35,680 and the best-paid making $59,950. The average auto tech rates their salary satisfaction a 2.7 out of 5, according to Career Explorer.
While auto tech jobs are arguably the most essential position in every repair shop,  many techs feel sidelined. The flat-rate pay schemes for over 73 percent of auto techs are highly unpopular. Only 21 percent reported being happy with their flat-rate plan.
Moreover, these complaints come in addition to frustrations with lower pay rates for diagnostic work, typically taking 25 percent of their time.

#2. Auto Techs Want Advancement Opportunities & Cross-Training

USAG- Humphreys
By and large, techs don’t know what the future holds. Some move into service advisement or parts, but many presume their career of choice is a dead end. 
In surveys, auto techs rated “career advancement limitations” as their second biggest frustration (only topped by pay), according to WrenchWay. Only 52% report a clear path for advancement at their shop.
Career advancement conversations should occur, but shop owners can provide cross-training to ease this concern (only 32 percent of shops offer cross-training currently). The most popular training topics include the following, according to WrenchWay:
  • 50% say management 
  • 14% say parts 
  • 10% say finance 
  • 10% say advising 
Cross-training is an excellent way to help retain existing techs and a great way to provide extra value to candidates. 
After all, if techs can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, what’s stopping them from entering a more lucrative career?

#3. For Auto Techs, Shop Floor Conditions Matter

While you can expect most shops to be well-lit and adequately ventilated, many do far less.
Based on the location, shop floors range from freezing to blistering (especially true with pit-style shop setups). 
Studies have shown that workers in hot environments have trouble concentrating and are more likely to make mistakes and take dangerous shortcuts. Other reduced capacities include coordination, remaining alert during lengthy tasks, and decision-making ability.
It’s also important to note that this concern reaches into the sphere of safety; mechanics have a significantly higher on-the-job injury rate than the average worker, no doubt due in part to the challenge of working with heavy machinery in often hot conditions.
Ask yourself:
  • Is your shop air-conditioned and heated?
  • Is the equipment in your shop updated and in good condition?
  • Is your shop using technology to streamline processes and make it easier for technicians to focus on their jobs?

#4. Mechanic Candidates Desire More Detailed Job Postings

In this auto repair advertising idea, we’re pushing an oft-ignored channel: TV and radio.
Mass market TV & radio are by far the most cost-effective methods of creating mass awareness of your company. 
Starting costs may be high–making the medium too costly for many single location shops–as you’ll have to run weekly spots for between six and twelve months. 
Still, If you’re a multi-location business and you want locals to know your name, there’s no better—or more cost-effective—medium.

The Solution is Clear: Make Auto Tech Jobs Desirable Again

There’s no easy solution to the current shortage. Even if the entire industry bans together to create the number of training programs, and do you know him and to combat the stigma associated, will still have mini years of tights. Still, in an extremely tight labor market, it’s clear that the solution has to make the job far more desirable to the average mechanic and the above findings. Suggest a lot of ways to do that.
Regardless of whether it’s a welcome change, the shortage’s reality has made every auto shop, every auto dealer, in the business of hiring and retaining tech talent.

Learn About Conceptual Minds

As veterans of the automotive industry, the Conceptual Minds team are experts at growing car counts through effective and personable marketing. If you are unsure of your current marketing strategy and would like some guidance, contact us today at 877.524.7696.

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