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Going The Distance

Considerations for your ongoing forklift technician search

The rites of summer have arrived. Baseball season is in full swing. Will your favorite pitcher throw a complete game? Will the Cubs finally play into October? Maybe that is what you think of as the owner of a material handling distributorship when you hear the phrase, “going the distance.”

How about the 2008 Summer Olympics getting started in China; might that conjure up your vision of “going the distance”? Maybe you are following someone as they try to achieve gold medal status.

What about “going the distance” in your distributorship? What does that mean to you? Somewhere in that definition should be the partnership that develops as you take customers from the first meeting through a long-term partnership that allows both parties to enjoy the fruits of successful business. While these partnerships almost always begin with the delivery of a piece of equipment, the real test of how we build and maintain that relationship comes with our service after the sale. The most valuable link in the drive for your business gold medal is your service technician.

Therein lies the challenge lift truck distributors face daily—how do we recruit and maintain gold-medal quality service technicians?

Ask yourself, “Why should the technician choose to work here?”

Each of us should begin by asking the question, “Why should the technician choose to work here?” Start with the overall impression of your company. Is your company a recognizable name in the industry? Do people who work for you have good things to say about the work environment you offer? Do the technicians who have left your company still speak in positive tones about their time there? Can you honestly say your company has a sound reputation in the community?

The answers to these questions are impacted by the “small” and the “tall.” Small things are those that pertain to your company specifically and may include how your managers provide direction on a daily basis. Tall factors affect more than just your company, such as the things you do in the community to raise positive awareness of who you are. Both have an impact on the overall impression of your company.

Much of your company’s reputation will be formed by what you offer to individual technicians in terms of stability and growth. This often starts with training. Think about it. A service technician hangs all of his or her skills on what he or she knows about fixing equipment. Have there been changes in the type of equipment offered over the past 20 years? What impact does the swing from internal combustion power to electric power mean to 25-year veteran technicians who know little else? When security is based in knowledge and that knowledge needs to expand to keep up with changing times, the kind of training that you offer your technicians can be a big factor in whether or not they see your organization as a probable place of ongoing employment.

Once a potential interviewee has gotten to first base and the candidate is intrigued by the training you offer, he or she needs to know how your company will help take care of his or her family needs. Sure, you offer health insurance, but what makes your plan unique? Will the technician spend 20 percent of his or her weekly pay on insurance premiums? Or maybe your network of doctors requires him or her to see a veterinarian for primary care? These things are important to you; therefore, they will be important to your prospective employee.

Do you have a “trophy” benefit to offer? Most companies now offer a 401(k) savings plan, but what makes your company’s plan so enticing? Life insurance? Disability insurance? Sick pay benefits? Be sure you have enough knowledge of your company’s offerings that you can sell the benefits to the prospective technician.

Outside of their skills, what is the most important need that will face successful technicians? That’s right—the toolbox. Good technicians will respect their tools as much as good hunters respect their dogs. You should respect their tools, too. You must also assure the technician that your company will provide the right resources to supply specialty tools, as well as updates and replacements for his own hand tools as needed.

As mentioned earlier, there has been a big shift in the type of equipment that is now being used throughout the industry. What kind of diagnostic equipment do you supply for the technician? Distributors wrangle so much with labor rates and how to grow them effectively, but we should spend more time wrangling with how to better utilize the labor that we do buy. With equipment becoming much more computerized, distributors have to provide the correct diagnostic tools, including laptop computers, to ensure that technicians can quickly diagnose the fault and hopefully spend less time swapping parts in hopes of a fix.

Rather than wrangling with growing labor rates, distributors should spend more time wrangling with how to better utilize the labor they do buy.

Alternate Career Paths
So the candidate is rounding third base and heading toward home. Now is the time to discuss what other career options may be available for the candidate. Many technicians will eventually look at what other jobs are out there besides turning wrenches. While most of them will ultimately choose to stick with what they know, distributors should be prepared to discuss what other options the company can make available in a career partnership. Some candidates will bring the instinctive character and personality it takes to succeed in sales. Others will bring the leadership skills necessary to become successful managers. Know what options are available, and be prepared to discuss these as the prospective employee desires.

Work Environment
Now the technician has almost decided to join your company to either begin or continue his or her career. The last and most important hurdle to cross as you try to “go the distance” is the actual work day. The work day will be impacted most by the work environment, something over which you have total control.

Studies have shown that people are most successful when they enjoy what they are doing, so make your company a fun place to work. It’s okay to have fun and be productive at the same time!

Having fun does not mean being frivolous, but it does mean allowing people to enjoy what they do in a relaxed manner. A technician, by the sheer nature of his skills, will enjoy fixing things. Our job as employers is to ensure that we provide an environment that allows him or her to do so while removing as many of the grinding obstacles as we can.

When we can do this while continuing to instill the importance of being a winner, we will have established the place where the best people will want to continue their own personal quest for gold.

So, you have recruited the best available forklift technician and provided a work environment that both motivates and substantiates his or her skills. Now the key factors are in place for you to “go the distance” in your material handling marketplace.

What’s it going to be for you, a gold medal or another too-short summer in Wrigley Field?

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

James Holmes Meet the AuthorJames Holmes is regional operations manager covering North and South Carolina for Barloworld Handling, located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on the Web at www.handling.barloworld.com.

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