A couple of weeks ago we at Find A Wrench/WrenchWay hosted our first ever virtual event called TechMission. Now that the event is over, the dust has settled a bit, and Thunderstruck is no longer stuck in my head, I decided to go back, rewatch all the roundtable recordings, and pull out some of the recurring themes that came up throughout the two day event.

If you weren’t able to attend TechMission, I highly recommend checking out the recordings on WrenchWay’s YouTube channel. Below is a list of the biggest takeaways from TechMission.

5 Biggest Topics Discussed at TechMission 2020

1. The industry is antiquated, and failing to keep up with the changing workforce.

The overall theme that kept coming up in every roundtable was that the industry is antiquated and needs to evolve.

It should come as no surprise that people entering the workforce today have different wants and needs than preceding generations. Younger generations not only want, but expect to have a healthy work-life balance, and want more fluidity between their home life and work life. In addition, they value ongoing training and mentorship, and want to see a clear career path. This is why we see businesses in other industries accommodating more flexible work schedules, providing more ongoing training, and focusing on work culture and environment.

However, the automotive and diesel service industries are lagging behind. Ed Roberts, Fixed Ops Director at Bozard Ford Lincoln, who was on our Manager Roundtable said, “The ball is 30 years behind. If you catch up and be 25 years behind, you’re ahead of everybody else.” While we all chuckled, we all agreed that there is 100% truth behind that statement.

2. We need to stop undervaluing technicians.

Jay Goninen, President of Find A Wrench and WrenchWay, said it well during the Manager Roundtable when he stated, “A tech is like an offensive lineman in football, you don’t hear their name until they screw up.”

Far too often, we see shops undervaluing their technicians and taking for granted how smart they are and how much physical and mental capacity goes into wrenching. Not only is this incredibly detrimental to technician morale, but this mentality is also affecting interactions with shop customers.

An example that was brought up during the Technician Roundtable is how diagnostic time is positioned to customers. Too often a customer will come in complaining about a noise or vibration, and the advisor or manager will say, “Oh, we’ll go plug it into the computer and see what’s wrong” …as if it’s that easy, right?

We know a lot more goes into diagnostics than plugging into a computer, but that value of everything a tech does during that diagnostics process is being highly undervalued when presented to the customer.

3. We need to lay out a better career path for technicians.

Another topic that kept getting brought up during TechMission is how important it is to get an understanding of where a technician wants to take their career, and lay out a plan to help them get there. Too often we’re seeing technicians getting pigeon-holed, and managers are not having the conversations with their techs to find out where they see themselves in 5-10 years, and what training they would like in order to achieve that goal.

Tim Winkeler, President & CEO of VIP Tires & Service, had a great story he told during the Manager Roundtable. For a long time, they had a lot of great technicians, but none of them had ASE certifications. Tim remembers asking one of their techs why he didn’t have it, and he responded with a chip on his shoulder, “Well, what’s in it for me?” Through that conversation, VIP Tires & Service created a formalized seven step career path from entry level to master technicians – which includes covering study materials and testing costs for ASE certifications.

We need to see more shops laying out similar formalized training for their technicians, or we’re going to continue to see technicians leaving the industry altogether.

4. The relationship between managers and technicians can be improved with education and transparency.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for there to be some strain in the relationship between technicians and management. What we find is it’s often a lack of transparency on the management side that breeds distrust and resentment on the technician side. For example, technicians can see the difference between the posted labor rate and what they’re getting paid. Without an understanding of business expenses that need to be covered, the technician might think the owner is pocketing a whole lot of money when they are the ones doing the hard labor.

By giving technicians some visibility into the financials and educating them on the costs associated with running a shop, techs can start to trust management more.
Plus, they will feel more invested in seeing the shop succeed when they know what success looks like.

5. Shops and schools need to work together to attract more young students into the industry.

If we really want to start tackling the technician shortage, then it is imperative that everyone works together to improve the industry and make it attractive to young students. School budgets are tight, and there are a number of ways shops can help schools out at little or even no cost. Some of these things include donating old tools or supplies, participating in career fairs, presenting to a class, or offering tours of the shop.

One thing that came up on the Instructor Roundtable was how shops can help schools set clear expectations for students about what they can expect when they enter the industry. Career services can certainly help set realistic expectations on some things, but shops can tell students things that career services can’t (i.e., entry level salary ranges, progression plans, etc.).

Helping set clear expectations for students literally costs a shop owner or manager absolutely nothing, and it saves them some difficult conversations when those students are actually get into the shop.

TechMission is Only the Beginning

TechMission 2020 was a huge success. Our goal was to get all sides together to talk about what issues we’re seeing in the industry. We cover a lot of grounds, but we need to keep talking.

Where Can We Continue the Conversation?

WrenchWay Insiders Mobile App
We just released a brand new mobile app called WrenchWay Insiders where techs and industry professionals can provide feedback and voice their opinions on industry topics (and win prizes while doing it). We’ll be posting more information about the app soon.

The app is invite only, but you can visit our website to learn more about the app and request an invitation.

WrenchWay Roundtables
Starting in January 2021, we will begin hosting a WrenchWay Roundtables where we will cover one specific topic and dive deep into what each side needs to do to start tackling the technician shortage. Topics are still TBD, but if you are interested in attending, you can pre-register on the WrenchWay website. If you’re interested in being a panelist on one of our roundtables, please email us at info@wrenchway.com.

Thank you to everyone who participated for helping make TechMission a huge success!