Restocking the Industry’s Supply of Parts Managers
A quick search of job websites like Indeed.com indicates that being a parts manager can pay. Literally. Parts manager openings typically pay around $70,000 per year nowadays, and salaries for that position can reach six figures in areas like Boston.
Yet, among all those job ads on sites like simplyhired.com, you’ll also see the occasional $1,000 signing bonus offered for parts managers. And that would seem to support Nate Brewer’s theory that relatively young parts managers, like himself, are rapidly vanishing.
“In our industry, a lot of the parts managers are in the last chapter of their career—I’m willing to say it’s probably 50 percent or larger,” says Brewer, the fifth-year parts department leader at Varsity Ford in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“And the sad part is, there’s just not young people getting into it.”
So how can the industry’s supply of young parts managers be replenished? That’s a difficult answer.
Consider: in a 2017 survey of dealers by Carlisle & Co. Inc., when asked what area of the dealership is the most important to their business’ overall success, the top response was fixed operations—an answer which would seem to indicate parts managers are valued by their employers. After all, the role of parts manager often comes with ample autonomy and plenty of latitude. And, again there’s the respectable salaries that come with being a parts department head—often more than double that of dealership positions like lease and rental manager.
Nevertheless, the job ads seeking parts managers seem to keep piling up.
Brewer feels that a parts manager’s typical workload—often working 7 a.m. ‘til 7 p.m., for around 55 hours per week— simply doesn’t appeal to a large segment of today’s youth.
“It’s not easy work,” the parts manager noted. “Customer service work is hard. Dealerships have long hours, there’s Saturday work involved. The culture’s changing; none of that’s attractive.
“And so it’s getting harder to staff dealerships.”
While a solution isn’t likely to occur quickly, Brewer, who has been in the industry for 18 total years, feels the answers are rather simple.
“The OEMs need to step up and start helping the dealer networks come up with ways to attract new talent,” the parts manager said. “You know, come up with programs to get younger people involved in this business. Because it’s dying.”
Brewer feels more OEMs need to offer potential reimbursement for employees who take college courses (often online courses, so those young members of the workforce can continue to work while doing their schooling). He also feels that more dealerships need to increase their in-house training programs.
“More dealerships need to start having in-house training departments,” Brewer said, “so, when somebody shows up, [that new employee] spends a month in the training department, and they learn everything about a dealership and how it functions.”
That way, the parts manager explained, those young dealership employees will be better equipped to forge a lengthy career in the auto industry.
“I know here in the Detroit market,” Brewer noted, “I’d say probably 35-40 percent [of parts managers] are set to leave in the next five years. And these are people that have held jobs for 30, 40 years.
“So that’s a lot of knowledge going out the door—and there’s not really many people coming in behind them.”