Unfinished monkey business

With her business head on, Hannah looks at the issue of training, staff retention and the skills shortage

Published:  06 December, 2018

It’s been a while since I’ve trawled the online job pages,  but the other day I was sent a link to a job that had been advertised. A local main dealer who shall remain unnamed was in need of a NVQ Level 3 Technician, nothing too strange about that, but as I read on the salary surprised me. The role was being offered was just £16,000-£18,000 per annum. Underneath this advertised job was a vacancy for a Warehouse Operative with a starting salary of £18,500 and no experience needed.  
    
This is a huge problem with the automotive industry and its inability to keep skilled and experienced mechanics especially in main dealers. The Level 3 qualification requires a significant amount of work and exams that can take years to achieve, knowledge needed to work on modern cars is becoming vast and learning is continuous to stay up to date with technology.

Shortage
Every year I hear the problem about a shortage of mechanics. Every year the industry struggles to fill gaps in its workforce due to the lack of skilled techs. And yet, as I constructed a Twitter post about the job I had seen I found how many disgruntled ex-technicians actually exist. The tweet proved to be a sore point with certain people who explained that they left main dealers to go to independents due to better pay, some even moved completely away from the automotive sector to again be paid more and be treated better.
    
As an industry we need to retain staff and pay them according to the skills and knowledge required to work on ever more complicated vehicles. A common problem I found was the time restrictions within which techs are expected to complete repairs. From every mechanic I have met they strive to fix issues, they want to solve customers problems and provide a roadworthy vehicle in return.
    
Primarily I entered the car repair trade because I am addicted to fixing problems and providing a great service to consumers, hourly rates are soaring and I feel customers simply aren’t getting value for money at some establishments.

Imperative
As a business owner it’s imperative that the mechanics are all highly skilled and customer friendly, the garage business is all about reputation and that starts with the quality of work. There are no time restrictions, for me the most important factor is returning a vehicle that is fully fixed and safe. I believe that providing a wage that reflects the mechanics skills and the continuous on the job learning they have to complete is vital, as well as this providing them with the tools required for the job.

I find the salary of £16,000 an insult, to pay that kind of money for a skilled individual is terrible. I hope mechanics in the area know their worth and won’t apply for it, but I also hope that soon the automotive industry can start attracting and retaining more individuals. I will leave you with the saying ‘if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.’  



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  • Skills, bills and jaw-aches  

    I knew starting a business would never prove easy but we don’t get anywhere in life without taking a risk or two. Having been in the industry for a few years now I have learnt that the two main attributes a successful car repair workshop needs is the skill to diagnose and repair and the ability to communicate with their customers.
        
    Modern car repair facilities have seen a dramatic change in recent years with the huge advancements in computer-related faults. The main tool of repair has seen the demise of the hammer and the growth of the diagnostics fault reader. I am a hands-on mechanic and much prefer older vehicles where I don’t need to locate the OBD port before the bonnet release, but I have to move with the times if I am to succeed as a business and that is why I am looking at hybrid servicing and trying to tap into that market. It is tough for me to admit that as I love working on classics and I will still have a part of the workshop for the golden oldies but it is hard to ignore the impact hybrid and electric vehicles are starting to have on the repair market.

    Communication
    The car repair industry has a pretty bad reputation – lets be honest. My female friends and family dread having to buy a car or go to a garage. Communication for me is so important, as with any business it is crucial that you are able to talk to customers and listen to their concerns without belittling them. The issue with car repairs is that it is a complicated process that is difficult to explain in layman’s terms and which can alienate an individual if they don’t understand. There is also the problem of distrust. If a customer doesn’t understand the problem and how you are able to fix it you risk confusion and doubt. There are so many horror stories of people being fleeced and conned as they don’t understand how a car works that every customer feels like you are going to do the same, it takes a long time to earn a good reputation and just one bad experience to send your business crashing down.

    I always like to explain as simply as possible with the work I am doing, I keep the broken part so that I can show the customer what I have replaced and what their hard earned cash has been spent on, I also take pictures and probably over explain everything. It is important for my business that I gain a good reputation as word of mouth is my main advertisement. As busy as a car workshop is always make time to have a friendly chat with your customers, especially if they have a trade, you never know when you might need a plumber!

    So, this month has been busy, productive, stressful and hot (I am writing this in July) but the world of car repair stands still for no-one.

  • THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL... 

    Workshop owners need to think hard about investment decisions. With that in mind, I’ve used my last two articles to look at a business management tool called value proposition design, which can help us to work out where to spend our cash.
        
    We saw that it involves understanding our customers’ needs, which we do by identifying the jobs they want to achieve, and the positive and negative factors associated with them, respectively known as gains and pains. We then looked at how a business can identify products and services that might help customers complete their jobs, which, in turn, will either create the customers’ desired gains or relieve their undesired pains. These gain creators and pain relievers provide benefit to customers. Thus, investments in the right products and services increase our value proposition.
        
    Our investment decisions are usually complicated by the fact that they can represent a chicken-and-egg situation: Money is needed to support the creation and delivery of products and services, yet profitable products and services are needed to create money (at the very least you will need to show that you will have good profitability if you are borrowing to fund your investment). As such, there are two measures of success of our value proposition: Whether it provides real value to our customers and whether it can be deliverable within a sustainable business model.
        
    This article introduces a concept known as fit, which is the extent to which a company’s offerings match the needs of its target customers and are delivered within a sustainable business. Fit, therefore, represents the yardstick by which the success of a value proposition is assessed.
        
    There are three levels of fit of a value proposition to a customer (segment) profile:

    Problem-solution (‘on paper’)
    If we take the value proposition discussed in my last article and check it against the customer segment profile created in the preceding article, we can check their fit. We do this by going through the pain relievers and gain creators one by one and checking to see whether they match a customer job, pain or gain. We can physically visualise this degree of fit by putting a check mark on each one that does (see Figure 1).
        
    In this example, we have used our experience to the identify some jobs, pains and gains that customers might care about, and then created a value proposition to try to address them. However, at this point, we do not have any material evidence of the potential success of these products and services, gain creators or pain relievers. I.e. the fit is only evident on paper. The next step is to find evidence that customers care about the value proposition, or to start over designing a new one, if it is found that the customers don’t care.

    Product-market (‘in the market’)
    Once your products and services have been made available to customers, you will soon see whether they provide value to your customers and gain traction in the market place: customers are the ultimate, most ruthless, judge and jury of your products and services.
        
    When assessing product-market fit, it is important to check and double-check the assumptions underlying your value proposition, i.e. have you correctly identified and prioritised the relative importance of the customer’s jobs, pains and gains? Have you provided things that customers don’t care about, and will you have to amend your value propositions, or start again?
        
    Business model (‘in the bank’)
    Your business model is the way your business is geared up to generate revenue and burn cash whilst you are creating and delivering a value proposition to your customers.
        
    The search for business model fit involves reaching a state where you have a value proposition that creates value for customers (products and services they want) and a business model that creates value (profit) for your organisation. You don’t have business model fit until you can sustainably generate more revenues with your value proposition than you incur costs to create and deliver it.

    Context
    The potential value of our products and services, and the associated gain creators and pain relievers, doesn’t just depend on their match to the customer’s jobs, pains and gains. It also depends on the circumstances in which they are offered; i.e. their value is dependent on context.
        
    For vehicle owners, an example might be the value of breakdown services. Have you ever signed-up for these from the hard-shoulder of a motorway? You’ll notice that you don’t get much of a discount. Those offers that you might have seen on the internet beforehand will suddenly seem pretty good value. These differences are because the breakdown service companies know full well that the perceived value of their services depends on context!
        
    As such, businesses must identify the contexts in which their products and services will be offered. For example, a customer’s priorities will differ depending on whether they are broken down, have an expired MOT, need a replacement bulb in night time driving conditions, or are just booked-in for scheduled servicing etc. It is possible that each context might require its own value proposition.

    Focus
    For a customer having a given set of jobs and associated pains and gains, there are many ways a business might design a value proposition to achieve a fit. This is certainly true in our industry, in which there are many competing types of service and repair provider. Each has tweaked its value proposition to suit a given type of vehicle owner or context:

    Independent workshops, often offering a large range of products and services as a kind of one-stop-shop to the ‘general’ motorist, usually aim to generate sufficiently high revenues by inspiring maximum loyalty from customers and trying to meet all their needs under one roof. These businesses require constant investment to provide the services necessary to keep-up-to-date with changes in motor vehicle technology and face a continuous challenge to monetise the value of every additional service.  Many diagnostic (or recalibration) services are still not well understood by customers, and workshops have to work hard to educate them, so that they can ‘appreciate’ their value. Convenience must also play a relatively significant part in their value proposition.
      
    Fast-fit operations are all about convenience: Their customers can get in and out fast, without any notice, and, hopefully, with the minimum of disruption to their lives. The businesses require large stock inventories to ensure that there are no supply-related delays. By concentrating on only the fast-moving (the most commonly needed) products, these businesses can remain highly scalable and profitable: although they limit the scope of their products and services, to reduce costs, their sales volumes allow them to retain considerable buying power. Their customers love the convenience and prices they can offer given the buying power (and increasing integration with the parts supply chain) that the larger fast-fit chains have. Main dealers, I think, rely more on social or emotional pains and gains to draw in their customers (e.g. think about the image they work hard on purveying or the potential manipulation of customer perceptions of safety, both driven by presenting themselves as the most qualified to work on a given make of vehicle). They need to work hard to offer convenience (e.g. courtesy cars, rapid turn-around, customer/vehicle pick-up or drop-off etc.) as their dealerships, geographically-speaking, are relatively sparsely distributed amongst the population. Some vehicle owners (ironically, those most likely to buy their next vehicle from a dealership) will also be concerned with the resale value of their car and may seek to maintain a full dealer service history to try to maximise its value.
        
    Following the above, broadly-defined, categories of businesses, there comes specialists, offering a smaller range of products and services to increasingly niche customer segments or contexts: e.g. independent specialists (single-make specialists combining aspects of both the independent workshop and main-dealer value propositions), diagnostic specialists (as with breakdown and recovery specialists, when you need them, you need them – and they should charge accordingly), component-repair specialists (e.g. transmission specialists).
        
    Then there is the remaining plethora of value propositions available to vehicle owners: breakdown and recovery services (apart from their normal role helping those in distress, I’m sure they would agree that they also play a role in repairing vehicles for those that place no value whatsoever on preventative maintenance…); mobile technicians (perhaps offering the ultimate in convenience in certain contexts?); and, my favourite, the chancers (that bloke in the pub who once changed a side-light and now thinks he can charge an equally stupid idiot to fit a new timing chain for them…).

    Future
    We’ve seen from the above that a stack of value propositions is competing for our vehicle-owning customers. As such, our value proposition design work and derived knowledge, can inform a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis of our business. So far, all these competing businesses have managed to co-exist and thrive within an industry that is set-up to offer value to private vehicle owners. However, take a look at Figure 1 again – what might be arriving in the future that could represent a threat to not only an independent workshop but the entire sector? How about Vehicle-as-a-Service (VaaS), a.k.a. car-on-demand? This single value proposition removes an awful lot of the hassle of vehicle ownership (equivalent to automotive morphine…) and provides many gains. In fact, it is so disruptive that it removes/changes the very nature of the customer segment; vehicle ownership becomes almost redundant. Should it be a surprise that one of the few barriers to widespread adoption of VaaS (the convenience of making short, necessary, journeys, e.g. to pick up milk when nearby shops are closed) is being addressed by a company that is seeking to provide VaaS: i.e. Amazon whom are also developing drone delivery systems?
        
    When it comes to the ultimate value proposition, may be there can be only one.
        
    I’ll leave that thought with you.


  • Draper Tools celebrates 100 Years  

    Draper Tools is celebrating 100 years in business. Established in 1919 by Bert Draper, the business is still family owned and run today by the fourth generation of the Draper family.

  • Sukhpal leaves ECP and LKQ 

    Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia has resigned from his positions as a Director of LKQ Corporation and as Executive Chairman of Euro Car Parts in the United Kingdom, it has been confirmed today (Wednesday 2 January 2019).

  • TechMan helps In Town Automotive scoop ‘Technology Double’ 

    In Town Automotive – one of the largest independently owned vehicle servicing and repairs garages in Northampton – has rounded off 2018 in style, after taking home its second prestigious technology award of the year.

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