Article

How to Improve Technician Recruitment and Retention

March 2006, Government Fleet - Feature

by Fred DeBono

A big concern among government fleet managers is the shortage of skilled technicians. As vehicles and equipment become more high-tech, this shortage will become more severe in the near future. Every year the automotive industry loses thousands of technicians through retirement, promotions, or career changes. Because of salary gaps between government and private organizations, finding and recruiting qualified technicians is nearly an insurmountable task for municipal fleet managers. Searches to fill open positions are costly and time-consuming. New technicians hired by government fleets come mainly from dealerships, small shops, and service stations. Because of the complexity of many fleets, these technicians must be retrained to service and repair fire and police emergency vehicles, off-road heavy equipment, small engines, landscape, and other specialized equipment. These problems coupled with budget constraints and demands for increased and higher levels of service may force organizations to make drastic changes including outsourcing more work to stay competitive. Such changes put pressure on fleet managers, who must find strategies to use resources as efficiently and as effectively as possible. Among these resources are people and their skills and knowledge, financial capital, and tools and equipment. These resources are components of a budget, and if any are reduced, their loss will affect the entire organization. Reducing the budget is not the answer to keeping costs down. Using resources more effectively and efficiently is the answer. Mission Statement Forms Base
The functions of management are planning, organizing, staffing, leading, and controlling. Organizational success is based on a well-founded mission statement. This statement is a useful tool for managers who want to take charge of an organization and achieve worthwhile objectives. Part of the currently popular philosophy called total quality management (TQM), mission statements are a key step in the process of strategic planning. If you do not know where you are going, then it does not matter which way you go. However, carefully defining your mission helps to get you there. Leaders often have great vision, but the people who change these visions into reality are the employees and workers. Achievement-minded managers are open to new ideas and seek out employees’ suggestions. The achievement-oriented management style is most effective when a manager deals directly with employees performing the work. How do we expect workers to get us there if they do not know where “there” is? A manager must not only create a mission statement as part of strategic planning, but he or she also must communicate it to be understood by all members of the organization.Personal Skills are Key
In the business world, management is almost always viewed in terms of productivity. The reason is that productivity is a key measurement of an organization’s success. To secure your future, you evaluate subordinates on how much they produce, because you are evaluated based on their productivity. Productive employees have opportunities to satisfy their own needs built into the work environment. Managers not only must develop an awareness of employees’ values, needs, and reasons for behaving, but also the personal skills to communicate with and motivate employees to accomplish organization goals.Reorganize to Motivate
Reorganizing some aspects of fleet operation can be a first step in efficient and effective management. Creating a multi-pay grade level increases the chances of recruiting and hiring new technicians. A mechanic helper classification is used in an entry-level position. A progressive system including mechanic I, II, III, lead mechanic, and supervisor, with higher pay rates for higher skill levels gives employees the motivation and competitive edge for improvement. Cross-Training Shares Knowledge
In addition to adequate income, today’s workers are motivated by the prospect of performing interesting and challenging jobs. To effectively manage job knowledge, employees must be willing to both donate and receive information. A cross-training or knowledge management training program is a low-cost process for employee development. Sharing knowledge between employees is a key for improved performance. Many training programs in electrical, electronics, hydraulics, mechanical, heating and air conditioning, and small engines, are available on the Internet or DVDs at discounted prices. If staff members are not available to conduct this training, instructors will do on-site training for a fraction of the cost of sending technicians out of town. Teaming up with other fleets in the area may further reduce on-site training cost. In-house training programs save time and money and attract employees reluctant to travel long distances. Frequent evaluations of employee progress helps determine key players to assign to leadership roles in their skill areas. Periodic technician re-assignment to different job functions assures a nucleus for future development of new employees. Employers must use knowledge made available to them by the organization; failing to do so leads to poor performance. Investing in employee development promotes an organization’s future progress. Incentives Help in Retention
Because of today’s rapid changes in automotive technology, diagnostic tools and software must be updated regularly. Incentives such as tool allowances, uniforms, safety shoes, and certification pay, can help keep employees from jumping ship despite a salary gap. Public sector benefit packages, such as health insurance, pension plans, paid holidays, paid vacations, and a more stable work place, have a greater advantage over the private sector.Maintaining the progressive levels of a multi-pay grade system, coupled with incentives, assures a more economical operation when compared to dealership or private sector repair rates. An in-house repair operation provides fleet managers full control and decreases downtime and parts cost. Such assurance is essential in an environment of increasing accountability, commitment, and follow-through.Once these management programs are implemented, the task of hiring entry-level technicians becomes easier, while cross- training promotes the in-house availability of future skilled technicians.

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