Why is it that employees leave a company? It is a question that is not often asked in today’s independent service industry. Too often the complaint is that this industry cannot attract new blood, that young people who once might have considered a career as a mechanic are now more likely to look at other trades first; or to forgo the trades altogether and enter other fields of work.
Last year at this time, J. D. Ney took at hard look at reasons why it is so hard to get young people into this industry. But we also have to ask ourselves that other question, one of equal importance as the one we asked last year: Why is it that shops have difficulties keeping qualified technicians and service writers? Why do so many leave either for other shops or leave this industry?
It is not always about money
If you ask an owner or a manger of an independent service shop why someone leaves their business, the most likely answer they will give is the employee left for more money. The technician or service writer making the move may have even given this reason to their employer when asked why they are leaving. It is an easy answer and usually is accepted at face value. But, what may be surprising is that when you take the time to interview people as to why they leave a job and do so away from their boss and co-workers, the answers they give for why they leave a job is often surprising. Right off the bat, money is very low down on the list of reasons why someone decides to make the switch to another employer or even another career.
It might be time to quickly review a study done by the Industry-Education Council of Hamilton from 2001 and available for review on the Web site of the Collision Industry Information Assistance (CIIA) ( http://www.ciia.com/documents/Apprentice%20
Retention%20Study%20Summary%20 2001.pdf). While the study examined the reasons why apprentices stay or leave an employer, the study’s conclusions apply just as well to mature employees. When apprentices were asked what they consider important in a job and what influences them to stay with an employer, it is being appreciated by their employer and the work environment, meaning they people they work with. A surprising 65 per cent of those surveyed said it was important for them to like the people they work with and having a positive and supportive work environment. Wages and benefits? They ranked sixth in the reasons given for staying with an employer.
As well as having a good work environment, employees say they also want to be appreciated for the work they do and want to work for someone who gives them a level of responsibility that is equal to their abilities. If they feel their talents are not appreciated, are overlooked when it comes time for promotions, or if a less-qualified family member is promoted over them regardless of the number of years they have worked for that employer and the skills they have, this will likely result in them leaving the shop.
Problems come down to management
What the study reveals is the reasons people leave an employer has more to do with the overall management of the operation than it has to do with money.
Bob Greenwood, president of E. K. Williams & Co., a provider of business management services for independent service providers across Canada, says today’s shops have to change the way they manage their operations by first changing how management sees the business they are in.
“(Independent) shops are now in the knowledge business and not in the breakdown business,” Greenwood says.
This means running an independent service shop is more than mechanical repair: it is instead involved in maintenance and diagnostic work needing skilled employees who understand complex mechanical and electrical systems, and can communicate effectively with the front-line service writers who interact with consumers. Today’s employees are comfortable using the most advanced computer systems, are always connected through the Internet and expect that the shops they work for are as technically savvy as they are; are behind them and the work they do, and willing to give them the tools they need for their jobs. They expect to see such things as wireless Internet access, the use of laptops to communicate with and to access information, and to see modern equipment ready-at-hand.
“When you have a mature staff, they have a career-oriented mindset and they are willing to stay in one place, as long as the job and workplace fulfills their personal requirements,” Greenwood adds. “This is a different kind of mindset, different from a job-oriented mindset where people leave over a two-dollar pay difference.”
This is an important distinction for management to grasp. If the workplace is built around the notion that every employee is looking for a long-term career, that employees want to work for a progressive and dynamic business, then this will mean having to change how management interacts with its employees. What has to be changed is putting an end to seeing employees as simply salaried workers, locked in a certain job, but instead starting to think of employees as partners in a business. As partners, employees become valuable contributors to the long-term success of the business and whose input is actively sought out by management to help improve the business.
John Norris, executive director for the CIIA, and whose organization helped develop the Apprentice Retention in The Skilled Trades study noted earlier, says the first step that needs to be done to achieve this is opening lines of communications between management and employees, and investing in their ongoing skills training.
Norris says too often some shop owners and managers take the position that an employee is only supposed to take orders, or thinking that the best way of communicating is taking a page from Gordon Ramsay, the foul-mouth chef made popular in such television shows as Hell’s Kitchen. While entertaining on television, taking Ramsay’s approach to workers is a sure way to have them heading out the door looking for work with someone else.
David Meunier, president of Total Automotive Consulting and Training Inc. (TACT), which operates the popular ProShop management course, knows too well that kind of mentality, and decries the fact that it is still operating in many shops across Canada.
“The trades have a policy,” he says, “I went to the school of hard knocks and that is how you are going to learn. This is a counterproductive strategy and leads to too many people leaving.”
Meunier insists management needs to take time to learn proper human resource and communications skills in order to better integrate employees into the overall business structure of the shop. This would involve, for instance, paying wages that are commensurate with the skill level of the job. If the job being filled should pay $30 an hour, then the shop really should pay that to the employee hired for the position. Underpaying because you think that is what is employee is worth, and not basing it on what the job should pay and the skill and experience an employee needs to have to do it successfully, will only lead to problems.
Bob Greenwood also suggests shops move away from a bonus structure for rewarding employees and instead move to a profit sharing model. The reason is a profit sharing model, first of all, makes every employee feel part of a team and encourages them in seeing themselves as having a stake in the success of the business.
John Norris suggests shop managers begin take management training courses — with an emphasis on human resources — for themselves, but also to enroll their entire staff as well. This will help everyone understand how a business operates and foster that necessary team work needed for better communications between everyone. He even hopes to see more such management training courses offered a t the apprentice levels as well.