Employee Retention & Evolving With the Automotive Industry

Monday, October 04, 2021

A Conversation With The ASOG Podcast’s David Roman & Lucas Underwood

We reached out to the hosts of The Auto Shop Owners Group (ASOG) Podcast, David Roman and Lucas Underwood, to get their thoughts on challenges the automotive aftermarket industry is facing, recommendations they have for shop owners, and how new technology is shaping issues surrounding employee satisfaction and retention. 

What industry changes or challenges are automotive aftermarket professionals facing in 2021? Along with that, what tools and training are required for them to succeed with these changes and challenges?

David: In my opinion, for shops to be successful in the future, it’s all about technician retention—finding and keeping great talent in the shop. Certain shops are big enough to grow their own technicians, but for small or medium-sized shops, it’s going to be critical for them to find and keep great talent. If they’re going to be looking for training in the future, it’s going to be management skills, employee retention skills and HR skills. Those soft skills are going to be needed to ensure that they’re not constantly having to look for new technicians, because the pool is going to get smaller and smaller. So if you have good technicians in your shop, just keep developing them and make sure that you’ve got the right skill set to ensure they stay where they’re at. 

Do you believe that seeing developments in technology for the industry, in person and in action, is essential for building technical training? 

David: I don’t know how you run a shop and not go to an event like AAPEX. You need the training, but more than that, it’s the networking—specifically with other shop owners and vendors—knowing what technology is coming, knowing what you need to know in order to make informed decisions about the future of your shop. A lot of shops don’t sit down and do a SWOT analysis or goal planning—and that stuff is critical. Even if you’re taking those steps, but you’re underinformed on what’s coming down the pike, I think you end up doing a disservice for yourself and your business without convening with other shop owners. You have to go to these events. In going to events, you’ll end up learning so much about new technology. At that point, you can sit down and make a better, more informed decision when you’re setting your goals for the next year, two years, or five years down the road. 

Do you see shops using EV (electric vehicle) or general industry education as an employee retention measure?

David: The frustrating part is that they’re not talking about retention in general. What they’re talking about is, we have a “technician shortage,” and “How do we get more people into the industry?” That’s what everybody is focusing on. But I’m talking about, “How about we stop the outflow? How do we get people to stay in the industry, and what do we need to do to keep them in?”

What about the technician you’ve had in the shop for three to five years who has not received a raise or is threatening to quit? They’re going to leave. And then, you’ve got to fill the position, take on another apprentice—maybe two or three more—to try to get these vehicles serviced.

It’s about engagement. If you don’t have engaged employees, they’re going to leave. And it’s not just sending them to the occasional training class at night. That’s fine. What’s more important is spending the time and the money to send them to events like AAPEX where they can talk to the very best trainers, they can talk to vendors, and they can talk to smart, engaged technicians and look at what’s possible. Because once they understand how big this industry is, once they understand how many people are out there trying to help—that gets them excited about the industry. Then you start to build that sense of community, and they’re more likely to stick around. 

Lucas: Right now they look at it like they’re on this tiny little island that’s just them and their shop, and then you get them involved, right? You take them to an event like AAPEX, and they realize this industry is huge. There’s tons of potential, there’s tons of things I can learn, ways I can grow, how I can better myself. So, like David said, we have to start taking care of the employees we have.

Can you speak to how increased demand for electric vehicles has changed the automotive aftermarket industry? 

Lucas: Yeah, definitely, and I think we’re going to see more and more of that as we see these new mandates coming onto the scene.

David: It’s not always mandates. Some of these companies are choosing to do this on their own. They get the right leadership in there, and the leadership steps up and says, “We’re going to go all electric by this year—you’re either on board or you’re not.” So at that point, what do you do?

Lucas: That’s the exact point, that we’re going to see them push the bell curve. Because you have to think—they’re over here running two manufacturing lines and they already know that EV is coming. Which do you think they’re going to focus on? So I think we’re going to see increased demand. You have to go into EV, and you have to begin to learn it. So start with training your young technicians, those who are interested in that technology. Begin to prepare for it now. Don’t retract and say, “I don’t think it’s going to happen.” It is going to happen. Don’t back away from it—lead into it. 

David: And at this point, the equipment cost for servicing EVs, specifically, is pretty low. So all of your cost is going to go into training, and there’s an immense amount of overlap. So somebody who’s well-versed in EVs and electrical systems can probably diagnose just about anything. The more money you spend on somebody, the more likely they’re going to stay with you. They’re going to stay loyal to you, because you’re willing to spend the money to send them to EV training to make sure they’re well versed on these vehicles, so that when those vehicles come in, you’ll be able to service them properly and safely. That’s incredibly important. 

But let’s say that doesn’t happen. Let’s say … they go back to all internal combustion engines—you really haven’t wasted your money. All you’ve done is created is a very good diagnostician in your shop because yeah, they can service EVs, but they can work on any electrical system in regular internal combustion engine vehicles. 

Looking at the past year, have the two of you noticed any service advisors, shop owners or technicians who have gone above and beyond? How have their efforts impacted the greater industry?

Lucas: All the time. We see shop owners who are reaching out and willing to give, no matter what. I think that we are an industry of industry members, by industry members, for industry members. We have all felt these challenges. 

If you haven’t heard about my story, just a few short years ago, I was done. I was closing the door—I’d had enough. I was working all the time, and I was doing everything myself. And when I had a little bit of help, my life changed. It changed for my family. I think that’s such a big deal, because we overlook that sometimes. Why do those guys do it? Because they’ve been there, they’ve been in those shoes, and they understand—it’s not that hard, it just takes a little bit of knowledge. 

We’re so excited to see you in person at AAPEX 2021. Can you tell us about your plans? 

Lucas: I am so excited to hit trainings. A lot of industry trainers, and even some folks from outside the industry, are going to be there. That is a huge deal for me. I love to train. Even though I have a coach who works with me in the business, I love to get in there and hear some different new perspectives.

David: I’m excited about the conversations we’re going to have and recording as many ASOG Podcast episodes as we can. AAPEX is going to be huge. I can’t wait to see what I learn.  

Lucas Underwood and David Roman are hosts of The Auto Shop Owners Group (ASOG) Podcast, a podcast created by shop owners, for shop owners. Subscribe to listen to auto repair shop owners have frank and open conversations about their struggles in managing the constant changes and challenges this unique industry brings.

Register now to attend the automotive aftermarket industry’s homecoming with David and Lucas at AAPEX 2021!