How Manheim’s New Apprentice Program is Helping to Tackle the Technician Shortage – Tony Markese, VP of Reconditioning

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The challenge for service managers isn’t just finding warm bodies, it’s finding qualified and skilled technicians who are willing to step into open positions. However, some auto industry players are taking a different approach, and training newcomers from start to finish. One of these unique initiatives is Manheim’s nationwide Apprentice Program. To find out more, we recently caught up with Tony Markese, Vice President of Reconditioning at Manheim.

Apprentice ProgramVIDEO TRANSCRIPT:

Jim Fitzpatrick: Hi, everyone. I’m Jim Fitzpatrick. Thanks so much for joining us on another edition of CBT News. Today, I’m so happy to have in the studio with us, Mr. Tony Markese, who is the Vice President of Reconditioning at Manheim. Thanks for joining us on the show, Tony.

Tony Markese: Oh. Thank you for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. So you guys are up to some pretty cool things right now. You’re launching an apprentice program to pretty much address the nationwide shortage of technicians that are out there. Talk to us about that.

Tony Markese: Yeah, we’re really excited to bring this program forward. We have seen tremendous growth in our business, not only in our traditional core wholesale business, but we’re really seeing a lot on the other side of our business, new opportunities with our dealer clients, new opportunities in the mobility fleet space. And so we’re really seeing an intense need for new techs.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, for sure. And what are some of the struggles that you see dealers facing, trying to get their technicians into their service drive? I mean, that seems to be a real uphill battle, doesn’t it?

Tony Markese: Yeah. It seems like every week we’re seeing an article of our dealer partners that are struggling to find technicians, just like we are. And so we’re all in this together, and we’re all looking to solve it. Manheim’s way is trying to grow our own.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Do you see that the shortage of technicians out there has kind of led dealers to say, “Let’s let Manheim recon these cars”? Takes a huge weight off their shoulders.

Tony Markese: Absolutely. That could be one of the reasons they’re looking to us, for sure.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. Yeah. It’s kind of a one-stop shopping. Manheim recently announced the apprentice program. What led to creating it?

Tony Markese: Okay. So we know that we have intense growth coming our way, and so we’re really looking to solve the problem. And so what we did was, instead of trying to look into the marketplace … We know there’s low unemployment, and so we decided that we have a lot of people inside of our own business, or employees that have friends that want to get into the business, and we have a great culture at Manheim, and so we wanted to get them engaged and involved. And then we have a lot of technicians that have been there for a very long time that are great teachers. And so we figured, let’s put those two pieces together, let’s teach them and let’s grow them from within.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s a good point. And I would imagine that with every technician that you have, they travel in these circles, and they’ve got a sphere of influence themselves, of others that might want to become a technician themselves. So you probably get a lot of that, where you’ve got a technician’s currently working places, “I know somebody,” or, “I’ve got a buddy of mine,” or, “I know so-and-so that wants to jump in.” It’s great opportunity, right?

Tony Markese: Absolutely. And we have thousands of employees. We’ve got 15,000 employees. Many of them just drive cars for a living, because that’s a big part of our business, but a lot of them are looking to progress into the company. They love working for Manheim, and they say, “Hey.” This is another opportunity for them to advance their careers, get a skill, and continue to evolve with the company.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. And God knows, good technicians can make a pile of money right now, can’t they?

Tony Markese: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. So more specifically, how does the program work?

Tony Markese: So we’ve had plenty of applicants. We have 21 locations that are doing this program. We have 29 mentors that these new mentees will work under. So they’ll work under them for a 12 week program, and then they’ll graduate and they’ll become a Technician I at one of our facilities.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow. That’s fantastic. Pretty easy. What are some of the success stories that are coming out?

Tony Markese: Well, we always love to see some of the lower level folks. So, we’ve had a driver that just always thought he could be a technician. He joined the program and voila, now he’s a mechanic.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, for sure. That sounds pretty cool. Making a lot more money than he was as a driver.

Tony Markese: No doubt. And it has a lot of upside, right?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

Tony Markese: Because you can continue to advance. We allow them to go through more technical training, so ASE certification, things like that. They become Master Technicians.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And how long typically would it maybe take somebody like that to become a Master Technician?

Tony Markese: Yeah, that’s a multi-year journey, for sure, but it’s on the horizon for them.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. And what’s creating such a huge demand for technicians? What’s driving that?

Tony Markese: You know, I think that we’re not seeing those folks coming into the marketplace anymore, whether it be the millennial generation or whatever. We’re seeing fewer of those folks come and enter through the vocational schools, things like that, like we used to see. Plus, we’ve had tremendous demand. Vehicles are lasting longer, and there’s a lot more work that needs to get done on them.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Today, it’s a skill that, as one dealer that we were talking to last week talked about the technicians that he’s hiring, he said, “These guys barely get their hands dirty, because the car is so technically advanced now that everything is computer.” You know, they’re hooking their computer up to the computer that’s in the car, and in some cases resetting it or programming it, or what have you, and that’s not the most traditional sense of what you think of when you think about a technician, right?

Tony Markese: No. You’re right on point, and I think that will really help us as we go forward, is the car’s more like a game these days, right? And so, a lot of this generation that loves to play the video games, I think they love to jump into this space.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I turn my cell phone over to my kids now and say, “Here. Fix this app. Would one of you … What am I doing wrong?” And now we’re going to be doing it with our cars. You know, calling the kids, “Get in the car. Show me what’s wrong with this.” And how many technicians does Manheim anticipate hiring in the coming years?

Tony Markese: Oh, we think we’re going to need about 500 new technicians in the coming years.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow. Huge opportunity.

Tony Markese: Yeah. We’re really looking to almost double our reconditioning business, and so we have about 500 or so today. We’re going to look and double that workforce.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Oh my gosh. And you’ve got those that are retiring from the company that have been doing that, as well. You’ve got to replace those individuals. And so this may even have a trickle-down on some of the dealers that are out there, where a technician starts with you and finds their way over to a dealership, right?

Tony Markese: That certainly happens.

Jim Fitzpatrick: But you don’t want them to leave, but that may happen. Or, the reverse of that, where there are some dealerships out there that have got, maybe, somebody in a wash rack that didn’t have the opportunity at a dealership that says, “Hey, Manheim is looking to take me to the next level here,” right?

Tony Markese: Yeah, for sure. I think that’s one of the things. And they can progress within our company. It’s more than just being a technician, right? They could become a manager of many other departments within our business, and so there’s tons of opportunity when you join Manheim. And so this is just another avenue to do that.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. There’s no question about it. And getting back to what I started the interview with earlier with, and that is, there’s probably dealers out there saying, “Man, just to have let Manheim recondition the car takes a huge weight off my shoulders as a dealer.” Then the notion that that car comes frontline ready, for the most part, is huge, right?

Tony Markese: That’s music to my ears. Absolutely. Yeah. We always view ourselves as really the largest shops in the country. We handle all three shops. We have mechanic shop, body shop and detail shop, and we really hope that we could serve many of our clients that way.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, for sure. They’re counting on it, right? Are you all doing anything beyond the apprentice program to help combat the shrinking auto technician shortage?

Tony Markese: Yeah, well we’re certainly partnering with our friends in the industry. So the National Auto Auction Association has been very coming forward, looking for techs and helping us. We’ve also partnered with TechForce, who’s going out into communities and the high schools, really trying to drum up more interest in some of the tech fields.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, for sure. I mean, a tech these days can make six figures very easily. It’s a great career. And then, of course, to be with a company like Manheim, where you’ve got phenomenal benefits and a career path ahead of you, it’s almost a no-brainer for some of these kids.

Tony Markese: We hope so.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s for sure. And then, I would imagine you’ve got some people that have come into the program that might be old guys like us, right, that say, “I want to get into this and see if I can learn a skill here.” You’re never too old, right?

Tony Markese: We certainly have no age restrictions, or anything like that. Yeah, for sure.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. Maybe even some retirees …

Tony Markese: Some retirees could certainly [crosstalk] jump in if they want to learn a new skill.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. Somebody’s out at 55, of their other career and say, “Hey, I’ve still got a lot of runway ahead of me,” right?

Tony Markese: Absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. That’s pretty cool. With so much demand, is Manheim making any major investments in reconditioning?

Tony Markese: Oh, yeah. We’ve invested almost $40 million in the last couple of years in the reconditioning space. So there’s a lot of different things that are going into that. Some of it is people, some of it is process, where we’re looking at facilities, things like that, and then we’re building some technology that we haven’t previously utilized inside of our shops, so it’s great stuff.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s fantastic. So all of these things are tools that help dealers. I mean, you guys at Cox Automotive, you’ve got your hand on the pulse of what’s happening, and also what dealers need. You know, when you talk to many dealers, they’re trying to run a very efficient dealership. They don’t need a million people running around on the payroll, and I think a program like this, where it’s one-stop shopping for a used car manager to get their cars and get them reconned and get them sent to the dealership, is a huge advantage for dealers, right?

Tony Markese: Yeah, Jim, and we’re really seeing not only traditional dealers, but obviously these new digital retailers are really a big opportunity for us because they don’t really want to set up brick and mortar everywhere. And so it’s really a huge opportunity for us.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay. Well Tony Markese, Vice President of Recondition at Manheim, thank you so much for joining us here at CBT News. It’s been great.

Tony Markese: It’s been great being with you, Jim. Thanks.

CBT Automotive Network. The number one most-watched network in retail automotive. This has been a JBF Business Media production.

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