It's tech hunting season!

Publish Date: 
Oct 8, 2013
By Dave Koshollek

AT A RECENT DEALER MEETING, I was confronted with the age-old question, "Where can I get a good tech?"

Over the last 30 years I've been asked that question hundreds of times. Where to find good entry-level and/or A-level technicians could be the No. 1 challenge for powersports dealers.

It may not seem like it, but hunting season isn't just for deer; it's the best time to track down technicians. Most shops postpone hiring techs during the slow season to reduce payroll. Then they compete with every other shop in the country when the spring rush arrives.

Take a tip from Keith Lewis, Service Manager at House of Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee who hired three entry-level technicians from the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI) last winter. That timing gave him pick of the litter and a couple months to acclimate the new hires to the personalities and procedures of his service department before business ramped up.

When searching for entry-level techs, I suggest starting with the motorcycle technical schools in your area, or at least setting a filter to interview those who have connections with your region of the country. There's no sense in participating to move someone to the snow belt, for example, when they grew up in Southern California. It's a bad recipe.

Knowing how to decipher school transcripts is critical to identifying the best candidates. Call the graduate placement department at the appropriate institution for help in this regard. If the individual graduated from MMI's Harley-Davidson program in the last year, ask them for their scores in the Dealer Service Operations section. Every Harley graduate has to take this six week finishing school and it's the best measurement of their technical skills. See my column in the January 2013 issue of Dealernews for details on this training that simulates real-world shop conditions.

When searching for experienced techs, start by advertising in places like your website, Craigslist and the local newspaper. If that doesn't satisfy your needs, then cast a bigger net by advertising in major cities within a couple hundred miles, and finally in national resources such as MotorcycleIndustryJobs.com, Indeed.com and online magazines.

The objective is to post an ad that gets published in minutes -- or, at the worst, days. Some snail-mail magazines take up to two months to see an ad placed today.

Hopefully you have a written job description for your open position that lists job duties, work environment and requirements such as training, work experience, valid motorcycle driver's license and personal tools required. To attract individuals with the attributes you desire you should realistically describe the work and what differentiates your shop from others. 

  • List the scope of job responsibilities, noting key information such as Wanted: Entry-level tech - A-level tech - To perform routine service, electrical diagnostics and engine rebuilds - Predominantly work quick service bay - On all brands - Hondas only - 50% UTV Service & repair - 4-days - 5 1/2-days a week. The idea is to set realistic expectations, because dealing with short-timers due to a misunderstanding of expectations is much more expensive and energy-draining than looking a little longer for someone who is a better match
  • Differentiate your shop from others to attract like-minded individuals; for example, Dynojet Tuning Center - Top 100 Dealernews Dealer - Best events in the state - Family values a priority - Moto-Cross sponsor
  • List employee compensation and benefits, such as, Health care assistance - 401K - Flexible work schedule - Salary plus incentive - Profit sharing - Continuous education support - Range of pay

Range of pay may offend some owners, but to attract individuals that stick it's important they know what to expect in this regard.

For additional ideas on how to interview job applicants, check out these links:

29 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions at www.businessinsider.com

14 Revealing Interview Questions at www.inc.com

That said, another question I get a lot is, "What should I pay?" The answer is not too different than for the question, "What labor rate should I charge?" It's a matter of the local cost of living, cost of housing and what other "like" businesses are charging and paying. If you're paying the least you can, it should be no surprise that your best techs are quitting to work at the local car dealership. Do a little mystery-shopping to know what your competition does.

When applicants apply, use a stepped interview approach that filters the good from the ugly, and then a personal interview and onsite testing to make the final decision.

When I was National Director of Harley-Davidson Training at MMI, I asked five questions to screen instructor applicants during the phone interview. One question was designed to determine their knowledge of Factory procedures, ability to communicate and how open-minded they were: "Tell me how to adjust the throttle cables on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle from start to finish." This was often performed incorrectly, so by using this question I could gauge the individual's knowledge of correct procedure and their ability to communicate what was a moderately complex series of operations.

In most interviews something was conveyed incorrectly or omitted, at which point I politely interrupted by saying, "Actually, what you just described is incorrect." I then paused to see how they would respond. If they argued -- or worse, got upset that I dare disagree with them -- the interview was over. My goal was not to hire close-minded prima donnas.

Finally, consider making drug screening, a criminal background check and viewing the applicant's Facebook page part of your interview process.