From the CEO’s Desk
In this and the previous edition of Western Equipment Dealer, you will see some in-depth analysis of workforce development challenges that equipment dealers are facing. Before the survey was launched, we knew that workforce development issues were at the forefront of dealers’ concerns. However, we wanted to explore how concerning the issues really are and, equally important, what key pain points dealers are experiencing.
Instead of sending out a broad-based survey to our membership, we decided to approach this from an invitation-only perspective. We identified some key dealers across North America and looked for a balance between size and brand. We also sought the feedback of dealers in our performance groups because they’ve already invested in training to a higher level. But what we found was that every dealer, no matter what size or brand, provided consistent statements about their workforce development challenges.
We know that workforce development is not a new topic, but it becomes more and more relevant each year. As we look across the landscape of our dealer channels, we see that due to consolidation, growth, retirement, new customer demands, and the evolution of the business, having the right people doing the right job is vital to a dealer’s success.
But I think it goes deeper in that the right person also needs to have the right training to do the job right. Unfortunately, based on the survey and the comments provided by dealers, as an industry we have largely failed in one or more of those areas for decades.
We have a mindset that if we do what we have always done we will get different results. I think we need to realize if we do what we have always done, we will continue to get what we have. Simply, we must change the way we approach this topic to change the outcomes in our organizations.
We learned through the survey that dealers are not keen on employee recruitment and typically fill holes on an as-needed basis. So, rarely are we looking at employee recruitment from a strategic point of view. It is very clear that we still have legacy issues. We’ve fallen into the practice of taking our best technicians and turning them into shop supervisors and service managers, promoting parts counter employees to parts managers and advancing salespeople to sales managers. But the survey also revealed employees, in many cases, don’t often transition well to mid- or senior-level roles. Perhaps even more surprising is that some employees clearly do not want more responsibility or to manage others. We have learned that dealers often get this wrong.
All of us will agree that dealers and their employees are busy and, in most situations, don’t have the time to train properly. The most accepted practice is to train internally, mainly having a new employee learn from another employee who has more experience. Experience has shown that although many are taking this rather common approach, bad habits and bad practices may also be passed from one to the next.
This is where WEDA can come in. In addition to the resources WEDA provides through its Cost of Doing Business Study and wage and benefits survey, the association has invested heavily in providing training to dealers and dealerships. In 2015, we created the Dealer Institute, which offers a comprehensive dealer management course that addresses training in each department of a dealership. We also provide training below the management level – and our parts counter and service counter training has been very popular.
Through our acquisition of Friend Management Systems, we offer Best in Class Performance Groups, where dealers can really take their businesses to the next level. Goals and objectives are set annually, their performance is measured against over 80 industry benchmarks and we have a copyrighted financial reporting system that really gets into the weeds of a dealer’s financial performance.
I would remiss if I did not mention our Foundations. The Western Equipment Dealers Foundation and The Canada Equipment Dealers Foundation have raised and distributed millions of dollars for employee scholarships, offset the costs of employee training for dealers and provided funding for capital projects at key colleges that deliver dealership-related training programs. Our Foundations, the training services through the Dealer Institute and the partnerships with colleges complete the circle of providing the essential training that dealership employees need.
But we cannot do it by ourselves. Dealers need to look at training as an investment instead of an expense. And we believe substantial investments in training are going to be needed for a dealer to prosper and thrive in the future.
In closing, I wish to share some thought-provoking words of wisdom of a WEDA past president. He said, “I know if I train my people, they may leave. But I also know if I don’t train them, they will stay.”
Article Written By John Schmeiser
John Schmeiser is CEO of the Western Equipment Dealers Association (www.westerneda.com).