The Auto Body Association of Texas (ABAT) on Feb. 10 hosted “How to Compete in a Tight Job Market: Fresh Ideas to Attract and Keep Good Talent.”
ABAT Executive Director Jill Tuggle said the pandemic has exacerbated the technician shortage by creating a staffing shortage in general. She said ABAT hosted the webinar to help auto body shops compete for quality staff without resorting to unsustainable tactics, like huge sign-on bonuses.
Speakers during the roughly two-hour broadcast talked about how to cost-effectively offer benefits, no matter the size of the business, refocusing technician training in alignment with trends in collision repair and helping young technicians establish a foothold in the industry that leads to a long-term career.
Sean Turner, president of Buffer Insurance, spoke about the best ways to attract and retain top talent with medical benefits.
Turner said voluntary benefits do not cost employers anything, but can enhance job postings.
“There may be people on this call who currently don’t offer any medical benefits,” he said. “This is for you.”
Turner said employers are not required to contribute to “supplemental” lines of coverage, like dental, vision and life insurance, but employees who opt in to that coverage through an employer can use it immediately, as opposed to private insurance plans that can require waiting periods of up to a year.
“It’s no cost to you but a huge value to your employees,” he said.
He said employers can also offer to increase contributions to employees’ coverage based on length of time with the company or job title, which can incentivize employees to stay, or offer multiple plans with varying deductibles---which only affect the employees’ individual contributions, not the employers'.
Turner also talked about “unorthodox” benefits, which can have a higher perceived value than the actual cost to the employer---for instance, rewarding a top-performing employee with a “date night” or vacation package.
“It might cost an employer a few hundred dollars, but it will be worth a lot more to the employee,” Turner said.
Scott Broaddus of Irongate Capital Advisors talked about the advantages of joining the 401(k) multiple employer plan (MEP) sponsored by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS.)
Broaddus said while the vast majority of large companies offer retirement plans, only about half of small employers do, because it costs time and money to hire the appropriate vendors and make sure the plan is in compliance with all federal laws.
“As you’re competing for more talent in the broader market, you need to offer something to attract the best talent,” he said. “Good employees expect a good suite of benefits.”
Further, many state legislatures are considering or have already passed laws requiring small businesses to offer a retirement plan, or join a state-sponsored plan with few options for employers, to make sure workers are getting the chance to save for retirement no matter where they work.
Broaddus said the SCRS Board of Directors has already done the work of interviewing and hiring the right vendors for the plan, which offers the ability for each participating business to customize features while keeping down administrative costs by participating as a large group.
For example, Broaddus said, one shop with 33 employees was paying about $18,000 per year for administration of its retirement plan, but cut down that expense to $12,600 by joining the SCRS MEP 410(k). As more businesses join the plan, the costs for all participants will keep decreasing.
“You get better group pricing, you simplify plan management and you get the same flexibility for your 401(k) plan as if you set it up yourself,” Broaddus said.
SCRS Executive Director Aaron Schulenburg encouraged all employers to consider joining the MEP.
“If you’re not offering retirement and wonder why you can’t hire people, it’s because.
you’re not offering retirement,” he said. “It costs you absolutely nothing to explore it.”
Tuggle added mandatory retirement legislation has been submitted in Texas but hasn’t passed yet.
“But it could,” she said.
Keith Egan, of Betag Innovation, talked about refocusing some technicians to specialize in outer panel repair.
He said outer panel repair now accounts for about 60% to 65% of all collision repair work. Structural repair, on the other hand, only accounts for about 15% to 20%, but that percentage is decreasing as the severity of accidents continues to rise and more and more vehicles that would have needed structural repair are now being declared total losses.
“In 2021, total losses were more than 10% of claims for the first time,” Egan said.
Egan suggested investing in training techs on outer panel repair because those percentages are remaining the same.
“It can extend the careers of older techs and accelerate the training of younger techs,” he said.
Betag Innovation is developing an outer panel repair specialist (OPRS) accreditation, currently being piloted, Egan said.
Egan said he does not think offering signing bonuses is a good way to attract long-term staff.
“I do agree with incentives, but not just to come work here,” he said. “They should be based on completing improvement milestones. That will show [employees] value, so they won’t be swayed to leave for another business for a minimal amount of money, like a signing bonus.”
He also suggested changing terminology---calling young technicians “journeyman” or “apprentice” instead of “C tech”---and discussing in the interview what they can expect in terms of career development and how their income will grow as they reach milestones.
“Young people want the same things we did,” Egan said, adding employers could talk about helping a young employee set up a savings account to eventually buy a home. “Have those conversations in the interview. You’ll stand out in the hiring process.”
Brandon Eckenrode, managing director of the Collision Repair Education Fund (CREF), said his organization is drumming up awareness of careers in the collision repair industry among students.
First, CREF will be at the Austin Auto Show on April 22 for the Central Texas High School and College Transportation Career Fair, meeting with students from a 700-mile radius.
Second, CREF is using a $100,000 grant from General Motors to be the top sponsor of the American School Counselor Association’s national conference in July in Austin, where it will educate K-12 school counselors on career paths and earning potential in the industry.
Third, BASF is hosting a car rebuild fundraiser that will fund a national PSA campaign about the industry, featuring ads on TV, radio and the internet, promoting the collision repair industry.
“We are trying to more actively get industry info out to the general public,” Eckenrode said.