The Workforce Crisis: Training existing techs

Developing a workforce doesn’t stop once all the jobs are filled. Ensuring employees stay in the industry long term is as vital a piece to the workforce shortage puzzle as getting employees hired. 

Keeping good employees is significantly easier if they have a career path, and training shows that the company is investing in that career path. Engine manufacturers are doing what they can to make this easier by providing their own tech training that dealers can utilize. 

Yamaha initiated a pilot program, Yamaha Service Skills Training, two years ago to call on those with a general technical background to train at Yamaha on basic maintenance. To provide attendees a link to a job, Yamaha invited its dealers to send young people to the program. Some of these attendees have been boat washers at the dealership who wanted to stay long term or recent high school graduates of a local technical program.

“On our side, we have created an intensive entry-level skills class to learn about Yamaha service and maintenance, so when you go back to the dealership, you can start becoming part of the income stream,” said Ben Speciale, president of Yamaha Marine Group. “For someone outside the industry, having a specific concept of a career path says that this may be a good industry to get into.”

Mercury Marine provides a system for technicians to sign up for training, at a Mercury location if it’s classroom-based training or online on the company’s Mercury Learn system. The company also introduced Distance Learning, where Mercury offers instructor-led training in a virtual setting, interacting with students as if they were in the room. 

Manufacturers like Volvo Penta and Yamaha offer continued education paths for techs.

“Having diagnostic skills and understanding how a product works allows them to diagnose an issue very quickly and solve the issue for the customer very quickly. And many times with the products being so much more complicated than they used to be, we deal a lot with interfaces to other products that may not be ours, and from a customer’s perspective, they really don’t care if it’s our problem or somebody else’s,” said Rob Schrage, director of field service development and operations at Mercury Marine. “There’s just an enormous amount of interaction now between accessories on a boat and the display/engine function.”

Mercury’s goal is to help dealerships train their existing employees and assist with home-grown technicians who may have come from other industries. 

“Many dealers find technicians that may be in another industry – they may have grown up on a farm or they may have worked with ATVs or something like that – and they have a passion for boating. They want to fix boats and they end up at a dealership, and we work closely with the dealership then to get them up to the competency where they’re certified or a Master Technician,” said Schrage. 

Volvo Penta schedules trainings to cover its whole product range at all of its locations across North America and Canada, as well as local technical schools and institutes that will host the training for area dealerships. 

“Depending on geographic location, we know about the product population and the type of training they need, so then we schedule the product trainings that mirrors the area. For example, where we have most D4 or D6 engines, or where we have gas engines or where we need drive classes, and so on,” said Magnus Gedda, product training manager at Volvo Penta. “If you look at any Volvo Penta product or engine, it’s really a much more complex product today, and that’s also then a challenge for the industry. And that’s also a reason why we need to get tech people trained.”

Dealerships can address the workforce shortage problem by utilizing manufacturer programs and actively seeking local kids who may be interested in a career. This means getting involved with local high schools – technical or otherwise – and introducing the industry to young people.

“Shift your mind from thinking ‘there’s nobody out there’ to ‘where are the people,’ and go there to look for them. Open up your mind – they are there,” Speciale said. “You have to make that connection to those feeder systems into your dealership; then, you need to provide a career path or a basic plan for employees on how you plan to develop them.”

For more on engaging local schools, read the case study on partnerships with high schools. 

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