Encouraging audience participation, Van Batenburg asked attendees to call out some of the specific barriers that tend to hinder potential new technicians from working at collision repair shops. These problems included the disposable nature of modern day society (replace something instead of repair) and competing industries appealing more to technicians.
Another audience member brought up the issue of technicians failing to engage in the proper training needed to succeed in the collision repair industry.
“A technician won’t go to training – is that a problem, or is that a symptom?” Van Batenburg responded. “I think it’s a symptom of poor management.”
He said that while running Van Batenburg Garage, he chose to treat the first interview of a potential employee as a conversation, rather than an interview.
“We didn’t talk about money,” he said. “We’d walk around the shop, and I’d say ‘Can you run this as a scope? Do you know this tool?’ We’d say hi to the guys and we’d sit in my office with the door open, and just talk. If I liked you, and I thought you had the right culture, you’d fit in.’”
He said that the enrollment process of every management course he teaches would most likely result in less money earned for the owner of the shop, but that the lack of stress resulting from that class would be worth it.
“You’ll have a lot less stress and be a hell of a lot happier,” he said. “If you really want to put the technician at the center, you will make less money. Instead of taking home $150,000 a year, you might take home $130,000. Who cares? There’s no difference between those two numbers. Once you make $90,000 a year, if you’re living in a modestly priced house, you have all the money you’ll ever need to make to have a great life.”
Regarding hiring strategies, he recommended hiring two interns with the potential to advance to permanent technicians, although he strongly advised against limiting applications to solely local candidates.
“You need to have a place for somebody to stay,” he said. “The pool of technicians in your town is not big enough. You need the United States.”
He said interns would come in for about eight weeks and work on interesting, engaging projects, such as diagnosing trucks.
“Bring them in from all over the United States, wherever it’s legal –that includes Guam and Puerto Rico,” he said. “You can also find them through your colleges. Bring them in for about 6-8 weeks. You don’t have to pay them, but I’d suggest you give them some money.”
He said that when interns are brought in, there is no promise of a job, but a shop manager or owner could interview them for a quite awhile to determine if they’re a good fit for one in the future.
“Two interns at a time,” he said. “Give yourself a break in between, because you’re going to wear yourself out after awhile.”
He continued to say that shop owners and managers need to have interns coming in, or else it will be very difficult to find the right technicians.
“Give them something difficult, right off the bat,” he said. “Give them something hard. You know what the young generation is going to do? The first thing they’re going to do is get their phone, and they’re going to become YouTube certified. It’s amazing how resourceful they are, and they will get that. They will get it done."
He advised that shop owners and managers get these young technicians into their business as interns, so the determination of whether they will be easy to work with can be made early on.
“You’ll know whether they’re cooperative in the morning or they’re rude,” he said. ‘“If you like them, offer them a job, and if not, the internship is over.”
He said that after 2-4 years of college, young technicians often need extra training that will need to be paid for, but shops can reimburse them for training costs if they remain employed there after the training is completed.
“Base compensation needs to be a livable wage, which is $20 an hour,” he said. “Get them there as fast as you can. If you start their wages low and tell them you’re going to bring them up, they will be insulted. What’s the difference between $15 and $20 if you’re going to go up to $20 in six months anyway? Do the math. You’re being cheap.”
He later continued to emphasize the importance of compensating interns and ensuring that the entire process be legal, because if an intern or employee were injured and not listed in the shop’s system, there would be serious consequences for the shop.
“Provide housing,” he said. “Provide a car. Give them a beater – an old timey thing. And when it’s all done, sell it, and they can make you some money. You’ve got to find someone who likes people – in this industry, that’s not everyone.”