Good talent is hard to find, but some dealers are finding that young talent is even harder to keep. That challenge was laid out in a recent study conducted by Deloitte Automotive, which showed that young people, especially members of Generation Y, aren’t eager to jump into a career in the auto industry. But as one consultant and a Pennsylvania dealership have found, there are ways to make a career in the business a little more attractive.

According to Deloitte’s survey, the firm’s third annual report on Gen Y, 53 percent of individuals born in the early 1980s and mid-1990s said the idea of working in the U.S. auto industry isn’t appealing. Mark Rikess, head of the Rikess Group, a dealership training and consulting firm, says dealers will have to work quickly to turn that stat around.

“By the end of 2012, two out of every five shoppers will be Gen Yers,” Rikess says, citing the Deloitte study. “It’s incumbent upon dealerships to start to change how they do business to accommodate what is the largest growing segment of the population.”

Kelly Wadlinger, an up-and-coming dealership manager in Pennsylvania, has found new ways to make a career in the business a little more attractive to younger workers. Her approach touches on three of the four factors Rikess identifies as crucial to recruiting Gen Yers: earning a salaried or hourly compensation; working within an outlined career plan; and receiving effective and consistent training. She doesn’t stick to offering a less-than-50-hour workweek, Rikess’ fourth factor.

Rikess adds that Gen Y also requires constructive feedback and recognition for a job well done, but warns against assuming that Gen Y isn’t interested in positions in the sales and service departments.

The Right Approach

Wadlinger is proof that Gen Yers aren’t all slackers with smart-aleck attitudes. Five years ago, the 28-year-old Gen Yer was on track to earn a doctorate in a biology discipline. That’s when she discovered her passion for sales and joined Central Pennsylvania’s Faulkner Group. It took Wadlinger two years to assume the director’s role of Faulkner Nissan’s F&I operations, a position she held until last year, when she was asked to lead the sales and finance teams at the organization’s new Fiat dealership.

Along the way, Wadlinger created a process for helping other smart, industrious 20-somethings make the same realization. And once they’re hired, she says, they’re put on a clear career path. “I really want to get them in front of me and talk to them. I don’t want to sell them on a job,” she says. “I want to initially sell them on the idea and then present to them what the job is going to be like.

“And I paint a pretty honest picture of what it is: ‘You’ll work hard, it’s a lot of hours and you will be rewarded,’” she adds.

Whenever a position opens up, Wadlinger visits the websites of the local university and community college, where she can sift through résumés posted by alumni and graduating students. It doesn’t cost money, she says, but it does require a fair amount of time to weed through hundreds of postings to find potential candidates.

What she looks for in a prospect is experience working with customers. She also looks for “dedication,” often indicated by a part-time job or volunteer work. Once she identifies a potential candidate, Wadlinger sends a personal e-mail that tells the prospect she’s interested in meeting him or her. She’ll also include a few details about the position, and she always makes sure to point out a few things she liked about the candidate’s résumé. The latter is often met with a positive response, she adds.

Wadlinger says she doesn’t subscribe to the “sales first, then F&I” career path for her new hires. Instead, she hires based on need and takes the employee’s skill set into account when deciding whether to place them in sales or F&I. That was the case for Jonathan Waltz, whom Wadlinger hired just after he earned a business degree from a local university. And it only took Waltz a year to assume her former post as first-chair finance manager at Faulkner Nissan.[PAGEBREAK]

Faulkner Group’s Kelly Wadlinger (right) recruited Jonathan Waltz straight out of business school. It only took him a year to rise to first-chair finance manager at the group’s Nissan store.

Faulkner Group’s Kelly Wadlinger (right) recruited Jonathan Waltz straight out of business school. It only took him a year to rise to first-chair finance manager at the group’s Nissan store.

Team Player

Each new hire’s career path follows a process of its own. Training is a big part, and Wadlinger believes in a hands-on approach. Waltz prepared for his position in F&I by shadowing Wadlinger as she delivered documents to customers and practicing his F&I sales technique on the store’s sales team.

“I would do mock interviews or mock deliveries and just get more comfortable with the entire process so that when I was in front of customers, it would go a lot more smoothly,” he says.

Waltz says there were several factors that played into his decision to continue working as the finance manager at Faulkner’s Nissan store. “I liked the environment, I liked the people I was working with and I liked what I was doing,” he explains, adding that being able to move quickly up the F&I ranks also was a bonus. “I also liked being able to set my own paycheck, and I was good at [F&I], so I decided to stay.”

Waltz’s success story supports Rikess’ theory that Gen Yers genuinely want to be good at what they do, and that all they need is to be confident in what they’re selling. “They want a lot of training,” he says.

“If you start by guaranteeing Gen Yers a salary, you’re going to be more successful with [recruiting them] than with just straight commission,” he adds. “No training, salary and things like that … you’re just not going to get them.”

SIDEBAR: Kelly Wadlinger’s Top Three Tips for New-Hire Training

1. Create an agenda or weekly game plan: Map out the staffer’s first four to five weeks. Putting their schedule in black and white prepares them for the daily grind and makes clear what will be expected of them once they’re on their own.

2. Schedule regular reviews: Gen Yers need to know where they stand with their managers, and they welcome constructive criticism. Just be sure to recognize them for a job well done.

3. Get everyone involved: It’s critical that the sales staff, general manager and dealer principal are in the new hire’s corner. That level of cooperation makes the learning process a lot faster and a lot easier.