Competition for technicians is as fierce as ever, but with the general economy in a nosedive and the auto industry undergoing dramatic reorganization, there's been speculation that agricultural equipment dealerships might be successful in recruiting automotive techs. Farm Equipment asked its readers for their thoughts on recruiting technicians from other industries, and the response was staggering. Here's what you had to say.
Q. What has been your experience in being able to recruit and assimilate technicians from outside the world of agriculture? Is hiring former automotive personnel a viable route for recruiting techs?
A. "Most auto mechanics are competent replacers but have no diagnostic experience that transfers to the ag industry. They've lived in the false economy of the car industry for so long that they are used to unreasonable levels of pay and benefits. If things get bad enough, maybe we can find somebody we'll be able to retrain, but for now give me somebody who's worked on a farm and likes tractors. I'd rather train him."
—Jim McNeil, owner, McNeil Tractor & Equipment, Laurel, Miss.
A. "I've found that technicians outside of our industry are very qualified for the ag world. They have the basic knowledge and sending them to a few schools brings them up to speed on our equipment fast. They have to understand the difference in hours worked before they are hired so they don't get upset and leave when you need them most. Also, if they are doing well you have to offer them higher pay, which is usually more than you are paying your other techs."
—Kenny Gallia, general manager, Hlavinka Equipment, Taft, Texas
A. "The only way this will succeed is if you find the right guy with the right attitude and a willingness to change. The amount of weekend work during seeding and harvest is a real culture shock to auto techs. We've had the best success hiring immigrant workers from Europe with automotive experience. They have more training on diesel engines."
—Brant Bazin, service manager, Young's Equipment Inc., Regina, Saskatchewan
A. "Hiring auto technicians might be a viable route if there were some available. If customers aren't buying new vehicles, though, they will be repairing the ones they're already driving. I expect that repair business in the auto industry is on its way up."
—Clark Tweed, manager, Tweed Country Ag, Bottineau, N.D.
A. "Being located between Detroit and Toledo, we find that auto techs want far more than what we can pay. We've hired techs from the industry but haven't had good results. Most auto techs have been trained to use computers for diagnostics and lack the technical savvy it takes to be a natural mechanic. You have to find a very unique problem solving, quick thinking and mechanical-minded person who is willing to absorb the industry."
—Melanie Leckler, CEO, Leckler's Inc., La Salle, Mich.
A. "We have a location that's hired 3 auto techs and they've all adapted well. They bring diagnostic skills in electrical and electronics and they understand job pricing. They were attracted by the hourly wage and not having to rely on commission. We also have an incentive program that rewards efficiency. If you want to explore this route you have to plan on paying a higher hourly wage and budget for product-specific training."
—Jeff Irwin, aftermarket manager, Brundt Holdings, Dilworth, Minn.
A. "I've hired some techs from the automotive industry and they seem to like the pay structure we use. They came from flat-rate pay backgrounds and like our pay scale that guarantees a paycheck plus incentives. It's been a great route for us because they have a lot of the knowledge required and they seem to progress quicker than recent grads. They just need to be brought up to speed on equipment."
—Tim Shide, service manager, Castongia's Inc., Rensselaer, Ind.
A. "There's a negative attitude toward the ag industry in techs from outside of the field. I think that hiring an auto tech could work, but most won't understand the industry. They'll need to understand what they're getting into upfront regarding wages and benefits and have to want training."
—Ron Kestner, manager, Town & Country Co-op, Ashland, Ohio
A. "I've interviewed former auto techs without favorable results. Ag techs have to know engine, hydraulic, electronic, GPS technology, diagnostics and repair. They are the most highly trained and underpaid techs out there. Other service techs leave at the end of the day and ag techs don't."
—Jeff Pack, service manager, Bader & Sons Co., Linwood, Mich.
A. "I've found that automotive techs are sharper on electrical systems and components than techs that come from a diesel training school. If I can get a tech that knows electrical and has a bit of experience, it's easier to train him on hydraulics. Also, if a dealer is lucky enough to be able to hire a student out of an aviation class, I've found they catch on quickly to the ag industry."
—Arthur Loyd, service manager, Baltz Equipment, Pocahontas, Ark.
A. "Auto techs have the mechanical aptitude necessary to succeed in the ag industry, but they often need to change their mindset to understand our field. We are more of a customer relationship industry. We deal with daily repairs that need to be completed on a timelier basis because the equipment we work on is always at the forefront of our customers' minds. It is their livelihood."
—Ron Zook, cooperative service manager, Agro Trochu, Trochu, Alberta
A. "The automotive industry is in the same predicament we are — an automotive tech can go most anywhere and get a job, so in many cases there are performance issues tied to the reason they are available. Also, an auto tech's work ethic, attitude and diagnostic ability are usually well below those of our techs with the same amount of experience."
—Phillip Fayhee, parts manager, Birkey's Farm Store, Rantoul, Ill.
A. "We've recruited two techs from the auto industry in the past year and so far it's worked well. Experienced auto techs are good at troubleshooting electrical. They're hard working and efficient because they're used to working on a flat-rate pay structure. It's best to find one with a farm background, and there is a bit of a learning curve, but it is much less than with a new grad."
—Kevin Rossler, service manager, Markusson New Holland, Emerald Park, Saskatchewan
A. "We've hired former auto mechanics. They cannot adjust to diesel engines and they don't understand hydraulics or any of the specialty parts of farm equipment. No matter how much experience they tell you they have, they are only good for oil changes."
—Brenda Flasowski, manager, Wallace Garden Center & Equipment, Crockett, Texas
A. "A good tech can learn the iron but the industry must be learned as well. The industry culture is more difficult to learn than the mechanical aspect. An auto tech who came off a farm might be a viable prospect for training."
—William Dilliner, vice president of product support, Altorfer Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa
A. "We've had better success recruiting service techs from the industrial equipment industry. They have the skills needed to work on electronics and hydraulics of newer equipment and are capable of working on the bigger and more diverse equipment of the ag industry. With the current economy, service techs with industrial backgrounds are looking for other opportunities."
—Paul Shibley, store manager, Brim Tractor Co., Salem, Ore.
A. "I stole two techs from a Buick dealership a few years ago and they both had issues with getting dirty. One went back to fixing Buicks, but after the initial shock of not being able to wear the same uniform from day to day wore off, the second worked out well. Proper training is essential, but the 'want' to fix a piece of equipment is chief. You either have what it takes to fix ag equipment or you need to move on to your 'sweet spot.'"
—Roy Suomi, owner, Western Tractor Sales, Painesville, Ohio
A. "Qualifying an auto tech's experience beyond mechanical specialization is a must. Techs for farm equipment need to be flexible and well-rounded. There are major considerations when hiring an ag tech and auto people need to be carefully screened to determine if they will be able to handle the change in work conditions."
—James Keller, wholegoods manager, Arizona Production Machinery, Phoenix, Ariz.
A. "Hiring auto techs is tough because the actual overlap of skills required is minimal. Heavy-duty truck techs are closer but there is still a huge learning cuve."
—Don Brunk, service manager, ESM Farm Equipment, Wallenstein, Ontario
A. "Auto techs don't want to come in at an intermediate pay-scale. They want to start at the top, but they have to understand that we will have to outlay a fair amount of training to bring them up to speed. They need to climb the ladder to get where they want to be."
—Denny Wallin, service manager, Heritage Equipment Co., Macomb, Ill.
A. "Ag equipment doesn't always break down in the best environments. Going to work on a skid-steer in a free stall with cow manure ankle high turns some people off. You need to find motivated and high-character people."
—Tim Ives, service manager, Cazenovia Equipment, South New Berlin, N.Y.
A. "We have two service managers from the car industry and both have told me that auto shops use a lot more diagnostic equipment. This might cause a difficult transition for many auto techs. It used to be hard to hire auto techs away because of higher wages, but now I think that might be less of a problem."
—Ted Smith, CEO, Smith Implements, Greenfield, Ind.
A. "In some cases it's worked very well and in others it's been a total failure. The key is for the tech to work in a similar industry that requires long hours and less-than-ideal working conditions. An auto tech needs to have a good work ethic and a clear understanding of what the ag industry expects."
—Rick Radon, general manager, Oxbo International, Kingsburg, Calif.
A. "I don't see hiring automotive personnel to be a problem as long as you are looking at the ones that might have some farm or mechanical experience. If they have that, they are able to adjust to ag easily."
—Jeff Behmlander, co-owner, Ike's Welding, Munger, Mich.
A. "It's a good option to consider, especially if the tech has a farming background. It's tough to find people that want to work in a small town, though, and the hours required to work at an ag dealership make it difficult to compete for qualified techs."
—Dennis Brown, service manager, Raymore New Holland, Raymore, Saskatchewan
A. "We've only hired one tech from the auto industry. He stayed with us for two years and then went back to auto because he didn't like working on large equipment, having to use hoists, etc. We've had better luck with heavy-duty truck techs."
—David Zecha, store manager, Roth Equipment, Larned, Kan.
A. "I believe there is an opportunity, but I feel there's a cultural misinterpretation that could be a major hurdle. Auto techs typically don't diagnose, but are handed a work order by a service writer. It could work if dealers were proactive in recruiting within their local market."
—Gary Vavrina, general manager, Vacin Inc., Clarkson, Neb.
A. "Techs outside the ag world see our equipment as foreign and it has been nearly impossible to recruit them. We've employed everything we can think of to attract auto techs to our business, but we've not been successful."
—Kari Mitchell, president, Mobile Ag, Bakersfield, Calif.
A. "We're currently trying a former auto tech as a service manager at one of our locations and he says it's a completely different frame of mind than the auto industry. The auto industry knows how long a job will take and has its rates set in stone. There is more variation with ag."
—Brion Torgerson, general manager, Torgerson's LLC, Great Falls, Mont.
A. "It works with the right person. We test interviewees on their mechanical skills to see if they have the ability to work on ag equipment. If they do, we train them and pair them up with a mentor to help assimilate them to the field."
—Dean Elverud, operations manager, Butler Machinery, Aberdeen, S.D.
A. "Unless the tech has some tie to ag it can be a tough transition. The auto industry has gone to component R/R rather than repair. The ag industry is moving toward this, but components are still commonly repaired."
—Kelly Mathison, owner/manager, Enns Brothers, Brandon, Manitoba
A. "It's probably a good move with double screening, but I think that most auto techs would find the ag world boring. Generally they have a very high turnover and I think they would leave the ag industry in a heartbeat."
—Dave Stalker, owner, Trails West Inc., Benson, Ariz.
A. "Car techs transition better to tractor, engine, transmission, electronic and lawn and garden than they do to combines and other large ag equipment. Heavy truck mechanics make an easier switch to ag."
—Bill Faulder, parts manager, Farmers' Equipment, Urbana, Ohio
A. "I've found that most automotive techs have no background in agriculture and are more versed in replacing parts than repairing equipment."
—Ron Vanrooy, service manager, Halnor Equipment, Waterford, Ontario
A. "I believe it's a viable idea as automotive techs are pretty savvy when it comes to electrical systems, but we've had no luck recruiting them."
—Ken Wood, branch manager, Agritrac Equipment, Barrhead, Alberta
A. "It's nearly impossible to find anyone who wants to repair farm equipment, auto tech or otherwise. You've got to work hard to keep the ones you have."
—Syl Suchomski, vice president, Suchomski Equipment, Pinckneyville, Ill.