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Secrets of Recruiting Top Performing Automotive Technicians

Today on the show, we’re going to talk to Steve, the hammer, Hamre. He is the national recruiting manager for Lithia Motors and he has a ton of experience hiring Automotive Technicians in our industry. 

What we’re going to cover is what it was like recruiting Automotive Technicians five years ago versus today? Should we tell customers the truth about the technician shortage? Will Service Advisors become obsolete in the future? There is much more coming up on Service Drive Revolution. 


We’re lucky to have Steve Hamre here and we’re going to discuss if we should tell customers the truth and about the marketplace when it comes to hiring automotive technicians.

Steve is an expert at recruiting Automotive Technicians jobs, even with this technician shortage, he still managed to overcome obstacles at Lithia Motors. So we’re going to try to lean on his expertise and what we see coming on the horizon inside the Automotive Industry. 


Should you tell customers the truth?


I understand that sometimes we’re not going to tell our partner the truth because they’re just in certain situations. Honestly, our partner probably understands that there are questions that don’t require someone’s full honesty. They’re just situations where you would rather show love and empathy and to tell the truth isn’t always the best scenario. 


But with customers, I think one of my advantages against other Service Advisors in service drive was that I would always tell the customers the truth. However, sometimes there was a price to pay for that.


Find out more about becoming a better Service Advisor, HERE


I wrote service in the university district in Seattle and these college girls would come in and buy a used Jetta. However, they didn’t know not to buy the 16 valve and so they’d come in and this Jetta GLI and the Automotive Technician would come back with the inspection sheet that would be pages and pages. 


First of all, to do an estimate like that can take 45 minutes to an hour. Most Service Advisors would usually tell the customers that the car isn’t worth it and that it’s junk. Because I was young, maybe I just felt like that was a part of the job. When I finally convinced my manager to let me be a Service Advisor, he told me that if I dropped below 2.5 hours, I was fired. 


This possibly was a motivator, there was something going on, but I would actually do it. I would call this poor college girl and tell them the absolute truth about their Jetta.


Steve Hamre agreed with what I had to say and told us this in response, 


“When I used to write service, I was probably a lot like you, but there was this one time I’ll never forget. It was a 94 Jeep Cherokee and it had that list and I was as honest as possible. I told the gentleman that I’d love to help him with all this but I thought a better idea was going to go get a salesman that I trust to relay the message and the customer actually appreciated that so much because they loved that car. He actually did all the work and it was $6,500 back in 2003.

It was crazy, but I agree with you on the truth part of it. I do think you have to take the customer into consideration and sort of how they’re going to take things. Possibly evolve your truth a little bit to fit what they want to hear or need to hear. But I think any good Service Advisor’s job is to prioritize as well. These are the safety issues that need to be addressed. If we’re going to drive our kids around in that car, we need to do other things to prolong its life or do the maintenance.”


I told Steve that we can probably say that upfront and let the customer know that, “The car is 12 years old, whatever it is, it needs work, some are important and some could be put off, but let’s just go through it.” 


By doing this, we can ease the tension within the service drive and help the customer make a decision. 


I had this customer at a Cadillac Oldsmobile dealership that I wrote service out for a year. She was so funny, I remember her car needed a bunch of work and it was the same sort of thing. We’re talking about $8000 on a car. 


That’s worth two and told her that I would not personally put any more money into this car. She then proceeds to tell me that she wants to do it and she has money to afford the repairs. 


Read about what Lithia is doing to get to the top inside the Automotive Industry, HERE


I even forced her to go look at cars, but the reason why she wouldn’t get a new one was because the shifter was on the column. She made it known how much she loved this car and told me that she wanted to be buried in this car. She hated the shifter in the middle and she only wanted a car with a shifter on the column. 


The interesting thing is that we get attached to some things and a lot of times it’s just one little thing in that car that makes us feel invested in the vehicle. 


Christian Lafferty comes in and tells us that he witnessed an example of when we should not be honest with customers. He goes in depth with his story and says, 


“So we’re in the store and this customer needed a whole bunch of work done to their vehicle. There was this Service Advisor that didn’t really know how to explain all this information to the customer and he went to grab a Technician to speak with her. 

As I was looking at the interaction, the technician came up to the customer and the customer looked at the technician and asked what’s wrong with her car? 

The Automotive technician looks her right in the eyes and told her that it’s a piece of SH*T, that’s what’s wrong with it. You need to get rid of that thing.”


Christian ends his statement by concluding that maybe we don’t always have to be honest with our customers.


I had a different approach to this situation. I believe that we don’t need to be blunt, we could be as honest as possible. The thing I remember about writing service that way and calling the college girl and telling her the Jetta GLI needed $4,700 worth of work. 


They start crying and that’s the whole thing. When we hang up, we feel terrible for a minute. Generally, an hour later, there’s a guy on the phone for us and so dad doesn’t want his daughter away at college with a bad car. 


At the end of the day, you feel like maybe you did a good thing by telling him the truth and dad wanted it all done because he didn’t want to worry. I think telling the truth, tactfully, is the best way to address any situation at hand. 

Christian Lafferty comes back in and talks about the careful positioning of steering customer conversations by telling us, 


“I think there’s something to the fact that we can put customers in a position where they’re ready to receive it. I also kind of did this thing where you turn something over to sales and I would give the whole estimate. By telling them that it’s possible the amount of the repair exceeds the value of the car, they have to decide that for themselves. I think the big thing that Service Advisors need to remember is that they do not have the right or the responsibility to make a decision for a customer. At the first point of contact, everything should be brought up and given to the customer and that’s where the honest thing comes in.”


Steve Hamre believes that it’s very important to make the list look less imposing by saying, 


“If we cover these three things today, you, that car is going to be safe for your family and then if you want, we can look at the flush or the, you know, the transmission flush or whatever else” 


Hamre believes that Service Advisors should present at all because if we don’t present at all and customers go down the road to another shop that presents them with everything. Now they think that you had a terrible inspection and that you’re hiding things from them. Steve makes it clear that presenting them with everything will help allow them to assess the situation and make their decision from there. 


Moreover, I posed this ultimate question to Steve Hamre, 


“Five years ago, what were the secrets to recruiting Automotive Technicians, Service Advisors, and  Service Managers?”  


Steve Hamre gave us his full insight on recruiting star employees in this day and age by telling Christian and I, 


“The difference between then and now is just substantial. Money was the key for recruiting Technicians and for getting people to really look at Vocational schools. To go seven years in the future to today, incentivizing and making Technicians want to look at your company takes a lot more than just their flat rate and some of the benefits. Employees everywhere are looking at different things to incentivize them now.

For example, they’re looking at quality of life and looking at their scheduling. One of the things is just incentivizing these Technicians. The other is to really play on the technology that’s involved. There’s a very good reason why we don’t call them just mechanics anymore and call them technicians. In fact, most schools equate this technical learning and education to STEM.”


What to do even with this Automotive Technician Shortage:


Additionally, the way Steve recruits his employees differs from many people over at Lithia Motors. What he would try to do is have his team of recruiters to tour all of their stores, at least quarterly. One of the biggest things he does is tell them to get immersed in that culture of that store and figure it out, because his staff were going to be recruiting people there. 


Steve says that we want to be able to answer some of the questions that won’t show up on a web page or anything else, specifically about 


  1. How that team works 
  2. What they do together 
  3. How they work together


I wrapped my head around everything that we have talked about and I told Steve that having outside recruiters come in with a different perspective helps bridge the gap between organizations and employees. 


The key to retaining Automotive Technicians, according to Steve Hamre, is something that Lyft has been working on for a long time. Steve says that we do it better in some markets than others by fully growing our own Technicians.


Retention in our staffing with this Technician Shortage could be fixed…

It all depends on hiring the right Automotive Technician!

If we’ve grown Technicians behind the years out of vocational school, we are putting the training on them. They’ve grown up in our culture and this way retention is much better. 

There’s all sorts of things that we’re implementing that will lengthen the Technician’s career and allow us to grow better Automotive Technicians from the ground up.


Steve has picked up many new ideas from Lithia Motors. 

Christian wanted to know more in depth about this whole situation regarding the shortage we have with Technicians and asked this question, 


“Do you find the stores that are really good at growing their own are also usually really good at recruiting? Are those two mutually independent of each other?”


Steve Hamre quickly knew how to answer Christian’s question about the secrets of recruiting top technicians with this shortage in the automotive industry. Hamre tells us that, 


“I think that is a phenomenal point. They are absolutely better at recruiting because they’ve got it down to a finite set, they’re looking for an entry level tech that they know will fit in that system and also have potential. 


They are also better at retention because you don’t have emergencies from a shop like that. Unless something just horrible happens, they’re always looking for that next group. Some entry-level candidates can feel that culture and want it so bad. They’ll come on and be a Porter for a while just to get their foot in the door. 


They start doing some lube work and everything else, and then their foot is in the water. So they’ve got two tiers below a C-level Technician and are doing everything that they can to bring people into the culture.”


Technicians going into Quick Lube Environment


When Steve talks about growing his own, I think there’s a couple things as an industry that is missed. 


The first one is in the stats that I’ve seen from manufacturers is that Automotive Technicians are going into a quick lube environment. So a standalone quick lube environment within the first two years, it’s over 60% leave. 


We also get married to this quick lube environment. 


Even though it’s a business model, our profitability also goes the other way. I believe that by understanding a better system in the dealership for a quick lube will allow customers to experience an oil change in a reasonable amount of time. 


You can still have those technicians mixed in and around the other ones and being mentored and having them in the shop, that dramatically cuts the turnover.


This is the key goal to retention and building that loyal employee base with this Automotive Technician shortage in the car industry. 


The number one reason usually is they don’t see a chance of advancement.


  1. When employees don’t see a clear career path, this does not give them any hope for the future and they eventually will leave.
  2. Second one is their boss. When employees don’t like or believe their boss has never engaged them in a personal relationship, this usually makes people feel like they are not cared for. 


Steve Hamre builds off of my idea of the number one reason why employees leave their job and tells us, 


“You’re absolutely right and I think that the whole career path at the start of hire is so important. But then if that’s all you do with that career path, then it’s, it’s useless. If you don’t have, say , a 30 day, meet and greet consultation with that employee, as they’re going through a career path, it’s not a tool anymore. 

It’s just a piece of paper you got for them to sit down. But every 30 days, if you’re consistently challenging them to get through obstacles and get challenges done, you will begin to give them a vision for success. I think our managers that do that consistently have a much better retention rate.”


Additionally, Steven also talks about how work ethic is the other thing, whether it’s a farm kid or any kid, work ethic is something that is hard to teach. 


Furthermore, he’s reaching out like crazy to Veteran organizations as well. Hamre believes that Veterans tend to do real well and in the shop type of environment where there’s a certain mission. For example, Steven elaborates how there’s certain steps that are taken to get that mission done and those Veterans can pretty much work anywhere in the country. 


Since we are talking about the future of the Automotive Industry, I asked Steve, 


“What else do you see in the future of hiring Automotive Technicians?” 


Steve elaborates on his ideas revolving the hiring automotive technicians and told us, 

“I think it’s been coming for a long time that we’re looking at Technicians to actually have some sort of customer service. There used to be those walls and there used to be those signs that say no customers beyond this point because of specific industry reasons.

I think those days are gone because the customers are much more educated and these customers want those answers from a technician. Now we’re moving into the more brick and mortar part of our business. Everybody says that they wish the mom pop shops were everywhere. However, I guarantee you that these same people all shop at Amazon.”


He understands that the customers will dictate how they want to do business. Steve finishes off by telling us that he has his own personal feelings about hiring Automotive Technicians in the Industry.


The last question that I wanted to get out of Steven Hamre is about recruiting Service Advisors, I asked him, 

“What do you see changing with the hiring process of Service Advisors versus Automotive Technicians?” 


Steve talks about his experience with recruiting Service Advisors and details this by telling us, 

“I always ask my Service Managers and I have my team ask recruiters if they are recruiting for personality or experience. My employees know that we should be recruiting for personality and we steer them that way a little bit. Additionally, we look at retail and customer service venues to find the right person. 

A lot of times you’ll find that diamond in the rough. This employee never gets bother and has a smile on their face while solving problems for a customer.” 


Now is where they find out where, instead of making $15 an hour at Starbucks. They can make $150,000 a year at writing service. 


Steve concludes that finding the right people is based on:

  1. Where we’re looking
  2. Where we’re recruiting
  3. What we look for in an individual 


I was so excited to have Steve Hamre on our show. He really has shed light on some of the interesting things happening in the Automotive Industry. 


Lithia is on the move!  Lithia is doing the best for their employees right now.



Don’t forget to subscribe and call us at (833) 3-ASK-SDR if you have a question. 


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Related Blogs/Podcasts:

Best Recruiting Practices To Hire The Right People

The Top 5 Four-Letter Words Service Advisors Say

How to Retain Technicians

How the Global Chip Shortage Is Affecting the Auto Industry


 Steve is an expert at recruiting automotive technicians, even with this technician shortage, he still managed to overcome obstacles at Lithia Motors. So we're going to try to lean on his expertise and what we see coming on the horizon inside the Automotive Industry.  Call us at (833) 3-ASK-SDR if you have a question. 

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