It became really clear during TechMission that technicians are desperate for their employers to understand that they want a plan for their future. I think it’s pretty common for any employee to put a lot of value into having a career path laid out for them, but it does feel like technicians often get the short end of the stick with this.

Why Don’t Managers Want to Promote Technicians?

Well, to me, it’s a really simple thing. Techs are extremely hard to find, and taking a great tech out of your shop seems like a pretty terrible idea as a manager. On top of that, there are a lot of times where a technician (or any other position) can lack communication, leadership or organizational skills needed to make a move to the office.

Because of that, it’s easy for a manager to become paralyzed, and stall on taking action because they’re not sure how to best approach it. In many cases, it’s far easier to find a new manager than it is a new technician.

To me, this is a huge mistake. So much heartache and pain can be avoided by just having consistent conversations earlier in the career development process. Managers should begin working with techs the day that they express their individual goals.

Having the career development conversation early does a couple of things:

  1. It shows technicians that you care about more than just how much they produce in the shop.
  2. It shows there are opportunities over and above the ones that they currently see.

So, how do we get started?

How to Lay Out a Career Path For Technicians Who Want to Advance

Start with an Evaluation of Skills

I am a huge proponent of treating every employee uniquely. You have to start with an honest evaluation of what this particular person’s skill set is.

  • Do they show leadership qualities?
  • Do they have a good work ethic?
  • Are they good with people?
  • Do they have a quick trigger temper?

What’s also important is to put together some specific examples or data to back up what you’re saying. It’s easy to go off of gut during a conversation like this, but, if you’re able to, assemble information based on their prior experience. It can make the talk much easier.

This is where I generally see a lot of shops fall short. When a tech shows a desire for progression, we stall. The days, months, and years go by quickly. The more time that goes by, the less the tech thinks you care about them. People are impatient, and driven people are even less patient.

Doing an initial evaluation of the person wanting a promotion is so critical. If you really take your time to run through the pros and cons of what their skill set is, the next part is the conversation with the employee.

Have a Candid Conversation

When you have a firm understanding of what the person’s strengths and weaknesses are, you now have the basis for sitting down with them to have the candid conversation. I normally start by thanking the employee for wanting to work toward a goal, and telling them not everybody shows the initiative to do so, so that’s really good.

From there, we talk about the role they want. Why do they want it? Is it because of status, money, or something else? To me, there are a lot of people that want to be promoted simply because they view it as progression in their career. The possibility of more money or an improvement in status can really make somebody want to do something different. Most driven people have this trait.

The next part of my process is to explain the job to them in a bit more detail. I tend to be really candid during this part of the conversation. The challenges of talking to upset customers, managing schedules and personalities, and having financial obligations aren’t for everybody. Truly diving into the detail of what the job is can paint a clearer picture for the individual.

I hate to say it but my approach, whether they were qualified or not, was to almost try talking them out of wanting it. That way, if they did take it, I hadn’t sold them on something that was much worse to them than what was advertised. To me, it showed me that they were truly serious about it.

Start Working on a Development Plan

Once you find out they are serious about the opportunity, it’s time to dive into the skill set to create a development plan. Based on the skill evaluation you did earlier, you want to talk about how that skill set aligns with the position that they desire. Of course, no candidate is going to be perfect. Do your best to paint a visual here because it can help both you and the candidate understand the fit.

Let’s start by talking about when you’ve got an employee that doesn’t quite have the skills for the job. Talking through their weaknesses and understanding if they have the ability to improve those weaknesses is key here. If they lack a skill, can it be improved with training or experience? If so, is there enough of a gap that they aren’t ready for the job? If this is the case, then start working on a plan with the individual to help develop that skill. Even if the job isn’t available when they are ready, they’ve shown a desire to grow and I think it’s important to talk about how you do that. By being candid upfront, you can now work on a development plan.

An easy way that I did this was by recommending podcasts or books I had used to improve that particular skill in my own development. I understand that not everybody wants to read, but talk about the importance of self-education in their development.

Beyond that, are there classes available through trade associations or manufacturers that you can get that person into? In the case we’re talking about, with a tech wanting to move into the office, that probably requires more soft skill type courses. Oftentimes, we focus on technical skill for our technicians and rightfully so. For techs that desire to improve their management or leadership skills, you need to figure out ways to get them into “non-technical” types of training.

Create a Timeline

If promoting them to their desired position isn’t in the cards right now, make sure to talk to them about a timeline. In many cases, there isn’t a clear path within your shop right now, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a time. The toughest part is to keep a driven person patient during this time.

Talk to them about the time it takes to develop and how important that is. Basically, try to get them to understand that it doesn’t happen overnight. When I was in the shoes of the “driven young employee,” I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted to dive right in. Looking back, I wish I would have been more receptive to those conversations. One thing I will say is that the conversations didn’t happen enough. Once or twice a year isn’t enough of a touch point to land your teachings home.

Keep the Conversations Going

Once they’ve put the work in and have improved to the point to where they are ready to take on a new role, you’ve now got a person that is ready for what is about to be handed to them. From there, your job isn’t done. In fact, it’s just getting started.

This is where your experience can really help them out. Continue meeting with them consistently and help answer their questions. Some questions will probably feel pretty elementary to you, but it’s important that you answer them without making them feel stupid. Remember, your goal is to build them up to handle their new position, and building their confidence might be the biggest hurdle to start. Make sure to remind them of the work that they had put in to get here and the natural talent that they have. This is a huge part! You can’t hire them and expect them to know everything immediately.

None of this is a silver bullet to preparing your driven staff members to grow into their desired new role, but it can help get both you and the candidate prepared to be successful. I’m interested in learning from readers – is there is anything you’d add or remove from my process?

Subscribe to the WrenchWay Blog for more tips and advice on how to make your shop or dealership a place technicians want to work at.