Heavy Mettle

Heavy Mettle Techs Needed

Richard McCuistian

Defining a problem is the first step toward solving the problem, but before any problem can be defined as a problem, it has to be recognized as such.  In our industry, there is a lot of talk about problems we’re facing, not the least of which would be issues like parts availability and pricing, customer satisfaction, keeping good people, service upsales incentives, the rising cost of doing business and so on.

As an automotive instructor, I feel I am making a contribution (however small it may be on a national scale) to the training issue, but what I’m hearing from the so many of the shops that call me isn’t so much that their employees lack training, as much of a problem as that is nowadays.

A primary concern in these parts is that a growing number of the more capable techs out there just aren’t too hip on showing up to work every day, and when customers so heavily depend on getting their vehicles back in a timely fashion, the unpredictable lassitude of some employees can be maddening.  Since I schedule so much live work in my automotive department, I run into the same problems when my automotive trainees don’t show.  I try to push the work through like regular shops do, else my grads won’t make the grade in the real world.

When I was in the field, I worked with more than a few of those guys myself.  I knew one guy who NEVER came to work on Thursday, and why the service manager put up with that nonsense as long as he did never ceased to amaze me.  The fact was that the guy could turn enough hours in four days to satisfy his need for a decent paycheck, so he always took a day off right before payday.

I have one very capable graduate who shows up at the service department about 6:20 a.m. (the shop opens at 7:30), works through lunch without complaining whenever it’s necessary, and stays late to finish important jobs.  The end of that story is that his employer wouldn’t trade him for anybody else.

So where is this “I got better things to do than go to work today” problem coming from?  It isn’t isolated to the automotive repair industry!

The problem is complicated, but for one example, there more than a few employers such as building contractors, farmers, and meat packers hiring the people some legislators call “undocumented” who come from south of the border.


One reason is because too many young American adults simply can’t be counted on to show up for work every day and in most cases, the foreigners can.  Don’t get me wrong: There are still a lot of responsible young Americans out there, but they’re getting harder to find, because they’re part of the same work force that contains another lot who have the idea that they should be able to set their own hours and take a couple of days off every week no matter what they agreed to when they filled out their application, passed their drug test, and unloaded their toolbox.

Granted, there are elements of most jobs that require some pretty serious skill, but there are many other needful things that simply require a strong back and a willingness to use it every day.  These are typically jobs that used to be filled by high schoolers in search of a summer paycheck.  I was one of those guys some 40+ years ago, by the way. One way or another, the employee that can be counted on to show up a few minutes before work, stay until closing and get every job done with a minimum of supervision is like money in the bank to a knowledgeable employer, regardless of what the job may be.

In our business, like any other, there are jobs for those with less skill, but that doesn’t mean those jobs aren’t profitable.  For example, we need people who can change oil, and that job, while it is extremely critical that it be done right, isn’t hard to learn, yet it is probably the most frequent piece of automotive service work done, and a busy oil change express establishment can take in from $3000 to $5000 a day, especially if the guy changing the oil is a well-trained upseller.

So what’s the answer to the quality labor problem?  There are probably a number of answers, but from my perspective as an instructor, doing what I can to endow my students with a good work ethic is at least as important as teaching them nuts and bolts, grease and steel, scanners and sensors, and how to chase sparks.

What does it mean to have a good work ethic?  My goal for the people I graduate is to make them “Heavy Mettle Techs,” because Mettle is what we need in America’s work force.

To begin with, a technician needs to show up every day on time, stay all day, and give the boss a day’s work for a day’s pay. If that sounds simplistic, it’s because it is. They need to be hungry for automotive knowledge and committed to the highest standards in excellence in every job they do, no matter how trivial it may seem at the time.  Every technician needs to be committed to the products he or she services as well as the employer, and finally, they need to take every service operation on every car as seriously as if their life depends on it, because in today’s world, it very well might!

That’s what it means to be a Heavy Mettle Tech.   And that’s what every shop needs.

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