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Qualified job candidates a tough find for dealers

BY JIMMY GILLIGAN

Has your dealership been seeking qualified candidates for open employment positions, only to find a barren field of prospects? If so, you’re not alone.

As dealership job openings continue to rise, the number of qualified job candidates remains stagnant, leading to headaches for dealerships across the country. 

For Lonski and Associates, LLC, a recruiting and placement firm with deep connections to a number of powersports dealers and OEMs throughout the industry, the first part of each new year brings with it a spike in demand for jobs.

“This is the third consecutive year where the demand is just over the top,” Henry Lonski, who founded the firm in 2005, told Powersports Business in a January interview. 

From service technicians to sales managers, there is plenty of demand for all positions across the industry. This is nothing new compared to recent trends. However, as dealers are increasingly struggling to find ideal candidates, job openings are piling up. 

Lonski and his company of eight headhunters are currently working to fill over 130 open positions across the motorcycle, powerpsorts and marine segments. As of Q1 2018, the openings were evenly split among all three segments. “And it’s coast to coast. The first quarter of 2018 was the largest numbers of openings we’ve seen in three years. All eight recruiters have full plates. It’s not the number of jobs, it’s the number of qualified people for those jobs. I’m very positive looking forward.”

Of course, that figure does not contain the large number of jobs that are open, but aren’t being publicly advertised due to the future termination of a current employee in that opening. 

Lonski and Associates have seen steady growth in firms seeking help to fill positions. At the same time, a sizeable portion of the thousands of active members in Lonski’s database have expressed interest in exploring new opportunities. Yet after the qualifications for a given job are taken into account, alongside the factors that job seekers have for a prospective position, that number is greatly reduced. 

The “wants” from the side of the candidate have remained relatively constant, with the biggest factors, according to Lonski, being compensation and the opportunity for promotion, as well as location. But due to the evolving wish list of qualities that employers look for in their ideal candidate, the increase in demand isn’t being met with a swift increase in new hires.

“Year after year, we’ve increased significantly in terms of placements, but in the same token, year after year it’s become more difficult to find the perfect candidate,” said Lonski.

He attributes this to the fact that dealerships increasingly desire candidates who have business backgrounds: people who are equal parts businessperson and powersports enthusiast. 

“Dealers are getting a lot more sophisticated in terms of analysis and margins, and they’re looking for a new breed of applicants that have more of a business acumen, rather than just direct-sales experience,” Lonski said. 

While their desired qualifications for prospective employees have evolved, not all those in the work force have necessarily stepped up. According to Rollin Karroll, who is in his fifth year working for Lonski and Associates, the talent pool can be generally split into two categories: enthusiasts who lack industry experience, and lifetime veterans of the powersports industry who lack the business know-how of a college degree. 

Although it’s easier for dealerships to hire exclusively from within the industry, college graduates from outside the industry are a new and growing talent pool. 

“It’s certainly more difficult to break into the industry, from the outside, however it’s not impossible, and many times people will have skills that will translate over into our industry,” Karroll said. 

There will always be a constant need for qualified salespeople and those with business backgrounds. But at present, the greatest demand is for service techs. For the service department of dealerships, the supply of experienced, certified mechanics and technicians just isn’t there.

Although it’s a boon for job seekers, the disparity between job demand and supply can be a pain for dealerships. As opportunities outnumber candidates, job seekers have the power to hold out for their ideal position. 

“A typical candidate has two other opportunities to consider when they’ve made a decision to change, whereas five years ago that wasn’t the case,” Lonski said.

This puts the pressure on dealers to create an environment that not only lures candidates away from other opportunities, but also from their current jobs. 

Adam Wilke, a six-year veteran of Lonski and Associates who works almost exclusively in filling positions at Harley-Davidson dealerships, noted that the best new hires come directly from other dealerships. This means that in order for dealers to attract top talent, they have to offer something that their prospect’s current job doesn’t.

“They’re not going to move their family or quit their job for a lateral or backwards move,” Wilke said. “Dealers have to be very smart about what is it about their dealership or group that is better than where some of these other talented people are.”

For the foreseeable future, the number of strong candidates will be in short supply in the powersports industry, Lonski added. But dealerships can work around this by looking outside the industry, and by making a concerted effort to create more appealing opportunities than that of their competitors.

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