Finding skilled trade laborers is becoming more and more difficult by the day. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that appliance repair was projected to decline nearly 7 percent between 2019 and 2029 from 38,400 workers to 35,800. And that, of course, was before the pandemic and whatever lingering impacts will be felt by small businesses and their highly specialized trade workers.
“Acquiring trained technicians is an epidemic, not just for our members but for all independent servicers,” says Mark Pollitz, the recently hired director of service for Nationwide Marketing Group. “Over the last probably 20 years it has been difficult to find up and coming technicians that are learning our trade and that are highly employable.”
Many challenges face the appliance service industry, but the shortage of trained talent is certainly one of the most pressing needs. And it’s because of that need — and the desire to arm servicing dealers with the skills and business acumen to succeed — that Nationwide recently brought Pollitz on board to lead the group’s service initiative. Pollitz and Nationwide’s Business Services team have aspirations of evolving the Service Leaders Network into something that helps dealers address all of challenges of running an efficient and profitable service business.
But the group is also aware that, in the appliance service world, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You can’t just slap some branding around a generic training manual and consider the job done.
“The service world is so much more complex than just fixing machines or selling a product,” Pollitz explains. “There are so many tentacles and channels and avenues that you have to walk through and manage through to make your service business efficient and effective – and, ultimately, profitable.”
That’s where Pollitz plans to lean into his 40 years of experience in the space to bring together partners across the category and craft a strategy and set of programs that work for servicing retailers of all shapes and sizes. And the early fruits of his labor will be shown off during the first-ever Service Leaders Network Conference, being held virtually May 13-14.
Service Through Education
Much of the focus of the Service Leaders Network will be grounded in education — as evidenced by the lineup for the group’s upcoming conference. From both a business and hands-on training standpoint, there really is no such things as too much learning. And, in particular with appliances where technologies and products change so frequently, the learning really never can stop.
Pollitz’s background, both on the retail and manufacturing side of the business, heavily involved building training programs for appliance servicers. But it’s a special connection that he has with the SkillsUSAResidential & Commercial Appliance Technology National Technical Committee that really rounds out the educational plans for the Service Leaders Network.
SkillsUSA is the world’s largest educational private-industry nonprofit organization, which has a network of some 440,000 volunteer members who help support skilled trades as a viable educational opportunity. Pollitz serves as the national co-chairman of that committee, and he’s seen firsthand the impact that it can have on a retailer’s service department — not the mention the networking and educational opportunities provided to the technicians who go through the program.
While working more closely with SkillsUSA will be a new initiative for Nationwide Marketing Group, SkillsUSA itself is a program that is familiar to plenty of appliance sales and service dealers in the Nationwide community.
“We didn’t do service initially, but like most small businesses, we learned to evolve,” explains Jeff Jaskot, owner of Aggressive Appliances in Orlando, Florida. “I think it was a great decision for us. It’s really helped to differentiate us from our competition.”
But, like many appliance servicers — and especially those just starting out now — the challenge of a thin talent pool became quickly apparent.
“We established that pretty early on and said, ‘All right, what do we need to do as we’re growing? How do we find new talent? Where do we get it from?’” says Jaskot. “We’ve taken a lot of different approaches through the years and some have worked. Some approaches have not. Everything from taking installers that seemed to be technically apt and moving them into service, to taking HVHC technicians, having them do ride-alongs with our guys for years, and then we move them into service with the obstacles that go along with those things.”
More recently, Jaskot turned to his local school district and, with the help of SkillsUSA, worked with their vocational tech schools to restart the appliance tech program there.
“Obviously, we have a vested interest in that, and ironically,” he says. “The program at the school has now been in place for a year, maybe a little bit longer. So, I’m really hopeful that’s going to start to be able to churn out some technicians to be able to continue to help fill our coffers. And I know that we can’t take every technician, and not every technician is for us. But I know that the industry is in a dire need for these people, so that’s been a huge win for everyone.”
Talent was such a dire need for My Appliance Source, a Chaska, Minnesota-based appliance retailer and servicer, that owner Jim Halloran — who had a degree in education — attempted to start his own local training program before learning about SkillsUSA.
“Talking to dealers across the country, everybody has that need,” he says. “And I thought, well, maybe we could train five kids in our little school that who knows, they would go to other areas in the country and find this job and create a life there.”
The value of that training and education, no matter where it comes from, can’t be understated, says Halloran.
“I appreciate the work that Nationwide is doing with the Service Leaders Network, because there are such a large number of members that are servicing dealers, and it creates a unique set of needs for those people,” he says. “Living in a community, we’re going to see our customers in the grocery store. So, if we only have the ability to sell them a product and not repair that product, I feel like that’s only going to ruin that relationship. But if we can take care of them well after the fact, they are going to be so happy that they don’t have to replace that appliance. That’s why the emphasis on service is extremely important in our industry.”