Dealership déjà vu

It feels like just yesterday that we were using the words, “technician shortage” to describe one of our industry’s biggest challenges.

Well, here we are again. The phones at the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas have increasingly been ringing with dealers struggling to find qualified candidates to fill openings in their service departments.

Regardless of what position you’re hiring for, having an opening you can’t fill is a serious problem, both in terms of the limitations it puts on your growth and the strain it puts on your ability to serve your customers.

What’s now

To help you fill your open positions, I turned to Yamaha Marine University instructor Valerie Ziebron. Here are her expert tips:

Technicians are on the hunt, too: “Absolutely, the requests for me to help dealers find techs has sharply risen – but so have the number of requests from techs looking to find shops. These techs are looking for dealerships that understand the service process and respect their people.”

Another technician isn’t always the answer: “You would think that adding an additional tech would automatically drop turnaround time and increase shop efficiency, but that isn’t always the case. You have to first ask, are we genuinely maxing out our existing techs’ availability? If the techs have to wait for things like dispatch, parts or approval, adding another tech just adds to the strain.”

Prepare for a new generation: “Keep in mind that many Generation Y techs are different from what we’ve been accustomed to. They are not imagining themselves working for the same place for years on end, so it’s up to the dealership management to give them reasons to stay. A paycheck is not enough. They want constant job performance feedback – especially on good performance.”

Embrace mentorship: “Offer a mentorship program with your lead tech training the next generation. The young techs get amazing information and tips while the older techs get an incentive based on what the young guys turn – not to mention a good ego stroke!”

Refocus your interview: “Get good at interviewing techs. Give them situational questions like ‘How would you go about diagnosing line one of this work order?’ There is no way to talk around that – you either know the information or you don’t. What is the skill set you are looking for? Interview for that and look past the rest.”

The formula for success: We “are also experiencing a shortage of excellent service managers, service advisors and parts workers. These problems are connected. You can hire an excellent tech, but without good people in these positions, he won’t stick around long.”

A dose of prevention: “Instead of just complaining about trade schools, get involved with them. I love speaking to these kids as a guest speaker or at their career days – we have to give these kids (and their instructors) a serious dose of reality on what today’s workplace requires from them.”

What’s next

Because so much is at stake for dealers, MRAA and Boating Industry have built a Marine Dealer Conference & Expo educational lineup that addresses hiring head on.

On Monday, Nov. 17, Ziebron will hold a three-hour pre-conference workshop, “Build a Service Dream Team.” You can find out more about that workshop and the rest of MDCE in the MDCE brochure inserted into this issue.

Finally, the MRAA Educational Foundation will announce the recipients of its 2014 Technical Scholarships at MDCE. They are designed specifically to help fund the education of those who seek technical careers in the boating business, and they are made possible through donations from dealers and suppliers like you.

The theme for this year’s MDCE is “Igniting Growth, Connecting Leaders, Fueling Success.” It’s easy to create a tag line, but we see it as much more than that. Helping you tackle challenges like this technician shortage is one of many ways we’re working to contribute to your growth and success.

Liz Walz is director of education for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. To learn more, visit or email her at


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