Interior Insights: Finding Quality Auto Trimmers

Oct 19, 2009

One major issue that has plagued the auto upholstery business for decades is the difficulty in finding skilled employees.

An issue related to this is the challenge that many trimmers face in training their employees once they do find someone they believe has potential.

This problem has become more pronounced over the years as the number of trim shops in business has steadily decreased.

Many auto trimmers find themselves with a decent amount of business these days just because so many competitors have closed up shop entirely.

Although this trend seems like it’s an indication that the trade is dying, I’ve heard this exact statement over and over again for the nine years I’ve covered this industry.

In fact if this was true, why are so many trimmers that do good work booked solid for months on end, even in today’s recession?

So even if the trade has shrunk over the years, there’s plenty of work to go around, and when it comes to getting that work done, most trim shop owners would really like to have competent help.

The larger problem of a lack of skilled trimmers has two components to it.

The first is a lack of professionalism and work ethic on the part of many young people.

The second is the auto trim industry’s lack of any kind of formal apprenticeship program for people interested in the trade.

Let’s start with lack of professionalism.

Part of this issue has to do with the maturity level of many young people who come straight out of high school.

In years past, entering a trade was a respected path for young people right out of high school.

Today, high schools tell young people that they need to go to college and get a Bachelors degree to have a career.

Automotive trade work is rarely presented as a career option.

Also, our society has trained young people to believe that once you leave high school, you go on to some form of college.

If you decide to enter the workforce at that age, it’s usually in some kind of low-paying retail job that doesn’t require any particular skill set.

These expectations mean most young people just aren’t mentally prepared to learn and do the work that’s required on a day-to-day basis in a working trim shop.

This leads directly to the second problem, a lack of apprenticeship programs.

For plumbers, electricians and plenty of other people in skilled trades, there are formal associations and apprenticeship programs set up.

Young people entering one of those trades find out very quickly that they’re not going to be making $50,000 straight out of school.

To become a skilled auto trimmer, many trim shop owners have told me that it takes someone with talent who is willing to commit three to five years of their life, full-time, to learning the trade.

This lack of required formal training has led to today’s current situation: young people who don’t know what to expect when it comes to learning the auto trim trade and who often lack the skills, and work ethic, to take the time to learn the trade and become productive employees.

Unless young people can see two things when evaluating a career in the auto trim business- a way to get the training they need and a good paycheck after all the training is done- then they just aren’t going to put in the required effort to learn the skills necessary to become a successful employee.

So what’s the solution?

Given that many other trades have some kind of association and schools or programs that provide enough formal training, and also explain to all untrained potential employees that they will have to go through an apprenticeship to learn the trade, that’s pretty much what auto trim shop owners should be doing.

At the very least, every trim shop owner should be making it clear to potential employees that they must become apprentices first before they can be considered regular, full-time employees and be paid accordingly.

The bottom line here is that trim shops still need skilled employees.

If you don’t have any employees, you can’t grow your business.

Unless individual trim shop owners start creating some kind of formal training for young people that actually teaches the skills they believe their employees will need, trim shops are going to be left with fewer employees to choose from as the years go by.

Also, auto trimmers need to start working together to promote their segment of the aftermarket.

There are plenty of talented young people who work in the paint and body markets, and much of the interest in that market comes from numerous TV shows about auto customizing.

The auto trim trade could find talented young people if it presented the auto trim business as a good potential career and began taking the time to offer affordable training for young people, if not in their shops then by working with public schools.

They also can’t expect everyone who walks in the door to know what’s involved in a career in this business or to automatically have the skills. There are some places where this is happening, but it’s not enough to make the industry grow and flourish.

To make this work, trim shop owners must cooperate more to solve this problem and complain less about “young people’s attitudes.”

Most other industries solved this problem long ago. Why can’t the auto trim trade?