Staff retention

Mechanic checking a car

Record low unemployment rates across Australia and New Zealand look good on paper but at the coalface they are causing chaos for many industries.

The automotive aftermarket industry has not been spared and the Western Australian Motor Trades Association estimates there are close to 40,000 vacancies across Australia for jobs such as mechanics, motor trimmers, panel beaters and spray painters.

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to fix this, and it’s going to take a lot of collaboration between employees, industry associations, national suppliers and governments to solve the issue. Given the current employee shortages, retaining staff will become imperative because it could take months, or even years, to replace those who leave for whatever reasons. Here are some staff retention policies to adopt in your workshop:

Employee compensation

First things first – money. It’s essential for workshops to pay what we call competitive compensation, which requires employers to evaluate pay rates and adjust them regularly. If this has not been done in the last six to 12 months, I suggest you attend to this immediately. To ensure the workshop can cover the rising costs, the workshop’s hourly labour rate may need adjustment. This evaluation and adjustment needs to be done every six to 12 months. There are also other forms of compensation to consider, such as staff bonuses. Every gesture ticks another box for the employee to stay put.

Job perks

Perks come in many different shapes and sizes, and they need to be matched to your employees. Perks like fuel cards, use of workshop vehicles, free Friday lunches, coffee machines, flexible work hours, fourday work weeks, and team morning fitness sessions are all simple but tangible things that will boost employee morale.

Working conditions

The physical environment of the workspace sets the tone for workshop morale. It’s not difficult to make sure the office, lunchroom and staff amenities are always clean and tidy – a cleaning roster could help. A fresh coat of paint does wonders. Workshop heating and air conditioning are significant investments but they contribute enormously to workshop comfort and morale during extreme weather conditions.

Training and career development

Good technicians will leave if there are no opportunities for them to progress in their career, or if they are not offered any training. In contrast poor-performing technicians are likely to resist offered training. Regardless of their attitude, training should now be non-negotiable in every business. Survival of the business itself, in today’s age of rampant technology growth, depends totally on training.

Our experience as trainers shows that once the initial resistance is broken, staff will enjoy learning new things, and there will be a spring in their step the day after a training session. Persevere – your business will thank you for it.

Not all training has to be external. Senior technicians can often help with in-house training, and it tends to boost their confidence and makes them feel appreciated.

Variety of work

Appreciating that routine servicing and simple mechanical repairs constitute the majority of a workshop’s daily chores, there will always be a steady flow of different jobs that vary from simple to highly complex. It’s important for job satisfaction that all employees are challenged with different jobs from time to time. Job satisfaction is described as how employees feel engaged and fulfilled in their work and it occurs when employees feel that their job is secure and safe. It’s only human nature for employees to walk away with a sense of satisfaction after completing a different or more complex job.

Staff appraisal

Finding the time to conduct staff appraisals might be difficult, but the effort will prove to be well worthwhile. At least once every 12 months, sit down privately with each staff member. Ask for their feedback on the workplace, and give them your feedback on their performance. Set goals for them for the year ahead. It is absolutely critical that you follow through with what was discussed and agreed.

Listen to your staff

Staff should be encouraged to share their ideas and suggestions – some will be good, some not so good. More importantly, the worst thing you can do is fail to acknowledge their input or fail to act on their suggestions. This is a sure way to make an employee feel undervalued and another good reason for holding regular meetings, so that staff feedback can be acknowledged and discussed and any appropriate action taken.

Genuine engagement

If you follow any sporting code, you will find that all the great coaches take a genuine interest in their players and really care for them away from the field. The same principles need to apply in the workplace. Managers or owners who genuinely care about their employees will enjoy high levels of staff retention. Busy or not, take the time to sit down and engage with staff during breaks. Ask about their activities outside of work, and take a genuine interest in their lives. At the very least, think about holding a phone-free lunch every Friday with the whole staff – and you shout lunch.

Acknowledgement of milestones, big and small

Shine a light on notable achievements. A birthday, an employee reaching a five-year work anniversary – seize the opportunity and mark the milestone together as a team. Staff shortages are not new to the automotive industry, and judging by today’s figures, staff retention will be one of the greatest challenges ahead. Don’t compound the problem by unnecessarily losing good staff. Investing time in staff management is now more important than ever.

This article was published 23/11/2022 and the content is current as at the date of publication.