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News > Features > 03/06/2012  

We need more thought leaders


03/06/2012

 

WE NEED MORE THOUGHT LEADERS

 

Negativity is hurting this industry and it's timesomeone called attention to it.  It needs to stop!

 

I was talking to a technician the other day who, completely unsolicited, sighed and offered the following observation: “Man, this industry sucks!” He slipped it in toward the end of our conversation, as if this is how he regularly wraps up phone calls. “This industry sucks.”

There is a lot of negativity in this industry. I hear it all the time and, quite frankly, it is hurting out industry. It damages our reputation and makes it harder to recruit new talent. It needs to stop.

Now, I know that negativity in the workforce is nothing new. Millionaire hockey stars and Hollywood actors will whine about their lot in life, given half a chance. It's natural, I suppose. But it’s not healthy.

I was, for a while, the editor of a trade magazine for truck drivers, and I had to deal with a lot of negativity there too. I learned that the average wage for a truck driver in Canada is $34,000 a year. That's about $34,000 a year too low, given what they have to put up with.

The negativity in that industry seems to be mixed with confusion about why their fortunes have fallen so dramatically. It wasn't that long ago that driving long haul was the ideal job for free-spirited mavericks with a taste for the open road. Now a lot of drivers feel like prisoners in their own cabs, captive to low wages, poor work conditions, and shifting societal values.

Well, I can tell you that some technicians feel trapped too. Trapped by stagnant wages, demanding customers, the rising cost of tooling up, the relentless need for skills upgrading, burdensome environmental laws, meddlesome governments, and a searing lack of respect from the general public.

But I also know there are technicians who love their jobs, love the industry, and love coming to work everyday. When I talk to them, I get energized. It is infectious.

In January, I met three technicians at the Worldpac training expo in California, who were like kids in a candy store. They made a big impression on me because they were excited about their jobs. They soaked up the training and couldn’t wait to get back home to put what they’d learned to use.

Perhaps even more surprising was the way they spoke about their bosses – the shop owners who had sent them for training. They never once used the term “ESO,” which apparently stands for “evil shop owner” and is frequently found on technician forums.

There was no grumbling or frustration. On the contrary, they all had stories that demonstrated the mutual respect that exists in their work places. All three had been asked to take over running the shop during personal crises in their boss’s lives. All three rose to the challenge and added some management skills to their resumes. These guys are not trapped or demoralized. They are not nay-sayers. They are true leaders in this industry. Thought leaders. Attitude leaders.

Every once in a while, when I’m talking to industry folks, we play the game, “If you could change one thing about this industry, what would it be.”

Truthfully? I would wish for rampant optimism among technicians. I would wish for positivity and confidence.

Think of all the cars out there that need to be maintained. Think of all the customers who rely on us to do what they cannot. Anyone with a head for mechanics and electronics will always be in high demand.

This industry has its challenges, and I’m as frustrated by the slow progress in dealing with them as anyone. But it doesn’t suck. Opportunities are everywhere. And the best way to find them is to start with a positive attitude. Otherwise you’re beaten before you even start.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Am I wrong? Tell me what you think. I welcome your feedback.
allan@canadiantechnician.ca
 

 
 
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March 10, 2012 - geomechs says:
 Hi Allan Your article pretty much nails the situation we are faced with. Negativity is increasing and while most of it is rubbish, there is a lot that is legitimate. I've been in the trade for almost 41 years. I have worked for a dealership, worked for myself and now contract for a shop. I admit that I'm coming to the end of it and as I look back, I feel that my career has been successful; I've really enjoyed it. True, there are times when I've wondered just what the hell I got myself into but those are few and far between. I've dealt with customers who, for the most part are pleasant and if I treated them with courtesy and respect, they have responded in kind. But I've also had to deal with horse's backsides as well. Those kind don't make my day but I've also learned how to handle them. I think what's really hurt the trade is the lack of basics. The trade now is remove and replace; you don't have to know how it functions, just replace it. I needed a bearing replaced in the rear axle drive module in my Saturn Vue. It was under warranty at the time and the dealership simply replaced the entire module, a $1500.00 item! From what I could see, there was about $50.00 worth of parts and about 3 hours labor to replace the bearing. Back when I worked for GM/John Deere in a small town dealership in Southern Alberta, we fixed that stuff. We pulled a starter out, we fixed it; we removed a carburetor, we fixed it; we pulled a transmission out, we fixed it and put it back in. We didn't replace differential carriers unless they weren't worth fixing. Hell, I remember installing rebuild kits in fuel pumps and relining brake shoes. Installing a rebuilt engine? Forget it! Half my customers would have shot me if I'd even suggested it. It's too bad that the rebuilders are offering components that are so cheap that repairing the old one is no longer cost effective. It's really taking the challenge and diversifiaction out of the industry; it's getting boring. All you have to do nowadays is plug in an analyser that tells you where to look for the problem then start replacing. Of course there's also the new problem of sending a search party to find the engine which is stuffed under the firewall. Then the techs that work on the dealership level have to deal with manufacturer's warranties that last until your grandchildren are entering college. Warranty repairs have to be performed at a flat rate that is established by the manufacturer and that can be quite short. Of course chintzy flatrate times are nothing new. Back in my day, the General paid you 6 minutes to reseal a tappet cover on a 350 in a truck. That meant that you had to get the truck in, clean the area, remove the cover, clean it, then apply that sick smelling silicone sealer to it, reinstall it and drive the truck back out in 6 minutes (12 if it had A-C). I'm getting a little long-winded here so I'll close. The industry has lots of problems but I think that they can be resolved. One of them is to get back to basics. 
March 08, 2012 - 3022 says:
 Let me start by saying I love my job. That is the attitude I bring to work every day. I started apprenticing when I was 26 years old and have had many types of jobs non automotive repair related jobs leading to that point. Those jobs helped mould my love for this career. I am a flat rate auto service technician and I am never board because of the daily challenges this job brings. (1) Customer service is number one. Every job I do I try to win the customer. If I have a satisfied customer he/she can request me and I have greater chances of revenue. I am my own boss and destiny. Relying on my support staff at the parts counter, service writer counter, other service staff and manager. (2) Every day I have a chance to be a hero in someone's life and that is a great felling. (3) I am challenged physically and mentally. (4) I get the chance to influence today's youth via co-op. I tell them this is a great career and many will say it isn't but if it was as really bad as they say they would of left a long time ago. I feel those people it doesn't matter what they do in life it will be bad. (5) As a tradesman I have the opportunity to be able to have some career stability. My employer can go under ut my tool box is on wheels and can always find employment. (6) As a flat rate technician if I need more income I can stay at work longer and work extra shifts. An hourly employee is limited to what my employer is willing to pay. I have a friend that worked for a shop that drove them constantly to pump out the work, the first slow down they where told not to come in till more work is present. They don't even get a lay-off because the time off is too short. As a flat rate tech I can leave early to attend to other things or stay as late as I want to have a chance to make my week. Even during the slow time I can still make my payments. What is wrong with this career? (1) Moonlighters'! They work all day and scab they're employers dollar at home. They are usually the negative ones I see in this trade. They burn out and it's not "their fault". It's the boss's, customer's, parts, anything other than their fault. I won't do anything outside of work, if someone asks me to work on their car than I tell them my hours of work. My off time is family and play time. I work hard and need the change to want to keep working hard. I love my off time just as much as my work time. I feel I'm more respected for this by family, employer,customers and neighbours. (2) Employers not investing in the future. No training, a good technician will leave his/her employment because they are afraid they will fall behind because of no training. I also feel a technician should be partially responsible for the investment. If it's an after work coarse I will go with no charge to my employer for the time I spend. However if it is during a work shift I expect to be paid. (3) Inadequate service advisers. They are on the front line and represent the shop more than any one else. A poor adviser can make us look non professional therefore the consumer feels this is not a profession like a plumber, lawyer, etc. (4) The urge to give everything away for free, diagnosis, research time etc. The attitude is I have to comp work to be competitive. Again we are letting people know we are not a valuable service. Ask a plumber to give you an estimate for free, or while your in there will you do this for me. Ask a lawyer to fax you something and see how valuable his time is. I have worked for 8 hours diagnosing a bus issue and my boss says all he can charge is hours. Do I feel appreciated after that? NO! I still love this career and really believe others do and wish they would convey this to the new generation. With all it's faults I still enjoy waking up and going to work. Scott Faris 
March 07, 2012 - dan says:
 Alan, get your head out of the sand! I don't blame our hardworking, deicated techs for saying "this trade sucks!" because it does. Think about other trades, ie, electrician, no investment in $20,000 + for tools, nothing changes, a light bulb still works the same way as 60 years ago, so no upgrading, $35 + a. Hour for every hr they are on the job. Compare to most out guys on the slave flat rate system! Sit around for 8 hrs to get 1-2 hrs flat rate. This industry is going the way of Kodak. No film, no maintenance ! Newer vehicles have synthetic lifetime lubricants in the differentials, transmissions, xfer cases etc. google Europe & Australia, $150+ for a lube oil filter service! We are trying to get business with &19.95 oil changes! What a joke. Sorry for ranting.. Been in the business 40+ years. The only way it can be rewarding is to eliminate flats rate and charge a fair price for the basic services. Look at the oil companies, 1.28.9 per liter in the west end of the GTA same price at all gas stations! Vehicle owners know two things. 1. They have to put gas in their vehicles! 2. They have to change the engine oil every so often. So why $19.95 oil change? Old strategy, to get them in to sell other services :( Dan 
March 07, 2012 - dan says:
 Alan, get your head out of the sand! I don't blame our hardworking, deicated techs for saying "this trade sucks!" because it does. Think about other trades, ie, electrician, no investment in $20,000 + for tools, nothing changes, a light bulb still works the same way as 60 years ago, so no upgrading, $35 + a. Hour for every hr they are on the job. Compare to most out guys on the slave flat rate system! Sit around for 8 hrs to get 1-2 hrs flat rate. This industry is going the way of Kodak. No film, no maintenance ! Newer vehicles have synthetic lifetime lubricants in the differentials, transmissions, xfer cases etc. google Europe & Australia, $150+ for a lube oil filter service! We are trying to get business with &19.95 oil changes! What a joke. Sorry for ranting.. Been in the business 40+ years. The only way it can be rewarding is to eliminate flats rate and charge a fair price for the basic services. Look at the oil companies, 1.28.9 per liter in the west end of the GTA same price at all gas stations! Vehicle owners know two things. 1. They have to put gas in their vehicles! 2. They have to change the engine oil every so often. So why $19.95 oil change? Old strategy, to get them in to sell other services :( Dan 
March 07, 2012 - BigRed says:
 Well said Allan! This is not a change that is going to happen overnight or that will come from divine intervention. It takes each of us to keep a positive attitude, speak well of others in the industry and be automotive apostle for positive change rather than a naysayer and grumbler. 
March 06, 2012 - philthethrill says:
 When I got into this trade about 30 years ago, I did because I enjoyed it. I loved fixing and building cars and hanging around other guys who felt the same. I spent many long days in the shop working on customer's cars as well as my own. As the years have flown by I've fixed appliances, furnaces,sprinkler systems and even built my own house, because I could and to save money. I would often wonder how other people got along without being able to hang a lamp or fix a toilet in the middle of the night? How can they afford to pay tradesman to do this simple stuff? I was recently talking to a friend of mine, an electrician about his trade when he started commenting on his brand new F150 (my new car was built in 2000)and how great it was. We were standing in front of my tool box that contains about $50,000 worth of my life. The pouch hanging on his belt had about $300. worth of screw drivers and testers. He said there were more tools in the truck but the company owned them. And while we were standing there, he was making his hourly rate and I was waiting for my next job so I could get paid. He said he rarely does any work on the side because he doesn't need to but if he does he only accepts beer as payment. I needed a beer about then but it got me thinking about what another tech had said to me years before,"All the people I've known who couldn't fix their own things could afford to pay someone else to do it for them". Very true I think. That's why I tell anyone who will listen, "If you enjoy working on cars it's a great hobby but if you want to earn money and respect, pick another trade". I agree that the last 10 or 15 years have been the worst. I'M POSITIVE ABOUT THAT AT LEAST. 
March 06, 2012 - 2822222222222222222222222222222222222222 says:
 The power of positive thinking is what it takes. Joe www.Vestest.com 
March 06, 2012 - HAROLDO'CONNOR says:
 Hi Allan,we talk about the industry declining, well i worked at a gm dealership in ottawa back in 2008, when gm and chrysler asked for bankruptcy protection in ottawa. Gm shut down 5 in the city, one shop i previously worked at and another shop lost the medium duty truck line due to no buyers. This was a big set back for the industry.loss of jobs.In 2010 the apprectice program was worried, the fall classes did not have enough students enroled for the program, teaches were looking for work in the industry.This industry is the most expensive trade out there for the "employee".what other trade out there as an employee has to fork out up to 40,000.00 in tools and continue to upgrade, replace, repair,and still buy on a weekly,monthly,yearly basis,none that i know of. I also believe there are way to many shops in this city. This should also be regulated by the government.where i work there are at least 6-7 shops in a square block. As a dealership tech, you get alot of training, in which i have and once i learned to diagnoss, driveability and electrical, does not matter what type of vehicle or model, the training is there on how to do it.I have seen in the aftermarket shops that the tech jumps right into a problem with out knowing the system, after seeing this, it proved to me the lack of training that is out there and available for the technician. I heard also someone saying self taught,what is that?.I have worked in a lot of places and seen how different owners operate, some really good and shake my head with others.I heard once that this industry did strike, accross canada in the 60's, the strike lasted 1 day, hell broke loose.Is this what we need to do again to wake up our government.May be a union, i know of alot of dealers do not like that word.When 2 shops in ottawa got unionized and was mentioned on the news, boy did that raise concern with owners. Well this scared the owners, and now the wanted to know what the techs wanted to keep them happy.Well it worked for quite a few years but when they heard that the shop went on strike and returned to work without a settlement , they bragged,now the owners were getting cocky,tough guy now.Hate to say it but maybe this is what the industry needs coast to coast to coast.I am a big defender of this trade and always will, but u have some techs that are " hate to say it "ass kissers" and they are like cancer, The only way for change is for all automotive technician across canada to stick together and say "WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH".I am not shooting down owners but sit down and take a hard look on how u are running your shop and how u treat your staff.We talk about CSI, but what about ESI?. Well here in ottawa it is really quiet and sad to say but i am hoping that some shops may need to close doors, they do not want to get into diagnosing and electronics. The days of maintaining vehicles on a regular basis is few and far between,suspension,brakes also are few and far between, so what else is there out there, electronics. Majority of consumers with any of drivablilty and electrical concerns end up back to the dealer, i have seen this almost everyday.I could write a book here but will continue reading the great comments that are poseted here. 
March 06, 2012 - Garystrugari says:
 I believe you are correct in your analysis Allan. For a shift in the focus, let us look at the whole scenario from the consumer's point of view. Their first encounter with a technician is in the dealership where they purchased their car. Actually, in most dealerships, the customer rarely gets to hear at all from the technician, but it is an encounter. The technician writes the "story" on the work order, which is then interpreted to the customer by a service writer. There is normally not a very detailed explanation of the charges seen on the workorder. With most shops charging $120 + per hour shop rate, the customer asks why the labor is so high. The usual answer is, and I quote, "That is the time it took the mechanic to do the work." So the customer then only sees the technician as the culprit for the enormous bill. This scene only needs to happen a couple of times to a customer and their mind is made up that ALL technicians are rip-off artists. Once off warranty, most new car dealerships seldom see the vehicle back, which brings us into the aftermarket world, so-to-speak. Remember that the customer already has the mindset that ALL technicians are rip-offs. This consumer is looking for one of two things, a better place to take his vehicle for service, or better pricing. They already have the "stinking thinking" attitude BEFORE they reach our places of business. When dealing with our customers, honesty is the best policy. I find that having the technician explain the repair directly to the customer is the best way to go. The customer then gets a first hand explanation of the repair work done, or an explanation of why repairs are needed. This hands on type of communication works well in most cases. Now believe me when I say, I understand that technicians need to rewarded for their expertise and knowledge. I remember when shop rates were $35.00 and the technicain was 40% of the door rate. I would venture to say that any technician would love to get 40% of the door rate now. In most car dealerships there is a wall that exists between the service department and the sales department. To most dealer principles, the service department is a "necessary evil" in having the dealership. Unfortunately, this style of thinking transfers to the sales department(ie: sale people), which in turn, then transfers to the retail customer. So I said all that to say this. One thing that needs to change is the way in which different departments treat each other. The service department is NOT a "necessary evil", but necessary to meet the customers needs. When the sales people LEARN to treat the technicians with the repect deserved, and likewise, the other way around, we will see a change in moral, attitude, and customer service. Is this the ONLY problem in the industry? Certainly not, however it is one area requiring change to work towards the goal of increasing a positive attitude and workplace. Just my thoughts, Gary Strugari Gary's Mobile Auto Services 
March 06, 2012 - MZANATTA says:
 Hi Allan, I also agree that we need a more positive out look. The problem is that this industry has been slowly going down hill for the last 10 years. The expectations of dealers (owners), the manufactures and general car owners are huge, but the rewards are low. Physical and mental stress affect both the Technicians and the front counter staff as well. The pay is low, hours are long, enviroment is toxic and mental abuse is staggering. Don't get me wrong, many people do ok, but we all should be doing great. Along with substansial increases in pay for service advisors, apprentices and technicians, the positive atmosphere must start with the shop owners and vehicle manufacture's. All I can say is it will be a long road ahead. 
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