Turning Cons Into Pros

Turning Cons Into Pros
Pay and work hours are major issues facing our industry. (Photo: Steve Pawlett)

If you’re having trouble recruiting fresh talent perhaps it’s time to call local law enforcement.

I recently read a fascinating article in an American automotive magazine that really intrigued me. So fascinating, in fact, that I feel compelled to share it with you.

The article was published in Fixed Ops, an American publication that focuses on the automotive repair industry. The article described the major challenge American mechanics are facing—since they’re underpaid, in comparison to tech professionals in other industries. The good ones are being poached by these other industries, thereby leaving independent garages and dealerships short-handed.

Unfavourable conditions

Mechanics don’t like the long hours they have to work. Nor do they like the large personal investment they have to make in tools and electronics, coupled with the penny-pinching when it comes to labour times, on the side of the dealers and garage owners.

Can we really blame them for leaving our industry when poachers come calling, offering better work conditions, better pay, and a more reasonable upfront investment in tools? Little wonder they’re leaving.

If all this sounds familiar, that’s because a lot of these same conditions hold true here in Canada. Just as our American counterparts are suffering from a lack of trained and qualified personnel, so are we. And this shortage is further exacerbated by the fact that baby boomers are retiring, leaving positions that are difficult to fill with the existing younger talent.

A possible solution

To deal with this growing problem, some out-of-the-box thinkers have come up with solutions that may be well outside your comfort zone, but are worth considering.

The Priority Auto Group, based out of Chesapeake, Va., for example, has come up with a very unique program. Working with local law enforcement, the dealership has instituted a retraining program for non-violent convicts. Of the 100 inmates who applied for this opportunity, 16 were selected for the first class.

The dealer group has invested $1.6 million in buildings, equipment, tuition and training programs. An instructor teaches two days a week, and inmates then shadow working techs in the dealership for the remainder of the week. They are paid for the work they perform.

Dennis Eilmer, CEO of Priority Auto Group, worked with local law enforcement—the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office—and the local community college to come up with this program. In effect, Eilmer has created a pipeline of talent that will supply his Group with qualified technicians for years to come.

Could it work here?

What a great idea! Keeping in mind that graduates are guaranteed a position on completion of the course, I wonder if this concept would work here in Canada. Offering inmates stability when they are released must be one of the answers to the question, “How do we keep them from reoffending?” From that perspective, it does appear to make sense.

At this point, you may be wondering, “How did the first batch of inmates do?” Well, of the original 16 inmates, 14 are still in the program, one dropped out and one was removed. In my book, that’s a pretty good success rate.

With so few real solutions to the labour shortage problem, this could be something worth considering. In fact, this could turn out to be “a life changing opportunity.”

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