Last time we discussed the coverage The New York Times gave technician shortage in an April piece. The author stated that “top-level technicians in the field can earn $100,000 a year after achieving master mechanic status and five years of experience.” Many AMN members weighed in on the truth of this on our Facebook page, raising questions about what technicians are currently getting paid, what their costs are in terms of tools and education, and if they are being fairly compensated for their skill and work by dealerships and auto repair shops. Since money is involved, this is obviously going to be a hotly debated issue. Let’s start with the issue of tools.
Techs must have the right tools to repair cars; that’s a given. Most shops require their techs to have a basic set of tools, and view having a complete set as a sign of professionalism. The question is, what constitutes a “basic” or “complete” set? That’s changed over time. Back when fixing cars was completely mechanical – instead of technical and diagnostic – mechanics needed to supply only their hand tools. This was affordable, and mechanics in independent shops were usually paid by the hour while those in dealerships typically received about half of the labor charges to the customer, and so could make a livable wage.
As cars became more computerized and complex, the tools also became more complicated and expensive, requiring techs to invest much more, thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. This ate into techs’ compensation at the same time that shops, due to expense increases in other areas (marketing, regulations, equipment, staffing, insurance, and taxes) were taking further steps to limit their costs, including shifting from paying an hourly wage to incentive based systems, and reducing the percent of the labor that is paid to the technician. A tech working on an incentive based system has the motivation to finish the job faster so he can take on more work and make more money. So, he also has an incentive to purchase tools that will allow him to work faster and more efficiently. But can he or she afford those tools especially if they are not used every day but only for specific kinds of repairs?
Auto shops will normally provide larger equipment like alignment machines, wheel and tire equipment and brake lathes. Some of them will also provide basic and specialty tools to their techs, but not all of them do. It varies. Some shops do provide a tool allowance to their techs or reimbursements for certain types of tools. Again, this varies from shop to shop. Right now the employment landscape for techs is patchwork rather than consistent in terms of tool policies. This means that a tech may leave a shop with a generous tool policy for a job with a completely different situation. The only thing he has control over is the tools he has, so in order to take best advantage of the employment market, it’s in a tech’s best interest to have that complete set of tools.
Auto shop managers need to take into account the incentives, disincentives, and pressures requiring a tech to have an expensive set of tools places on him. While techs don’t choose this career path solely because of money – there are other considerations like talent, opportunity, and enjoyment – if they feel they can’t make enough money from their paycheck after their own costs are subtracted, it’s ridiculous to expect them to stay in the field, let alone recommend it to others. What kind of tool policy does your shop have, and how does it affect the talent you are able to attract?