We all know that good help is hard to find. But it’s also hard to keep. This has long been a challenge for dealerships, regardless of size, brand or location.

And data from the newly published 2018 Business Outlook & Trends report from our sister publication, Ag Equipment Intelligence, suggests the problem is only getting worse. For the first time in the 13-year history of the study, recruiting and retaining technicians ranked atop the list of dealer concerns, with some 92% saying they are “concerned” (50.3%) or “most concerned” (41.7%) about the availability of technicians.

This represents quite a shift, with the dearth of qualified techs ranking 6th among dealers’ biggest issues and concerns last year. Challenges are perhaps coming to a head, as dealerships look to restock staff as the ag economy slowly rebounds, only to find quality hires are few and far between.

But dealers may also be looking for a different breed of shop technician. While these positions have always been in high demand, many techs are being asked to do more within dealerships. Talking with several service and store managers in recent months, they noted ongoing efforts to increase the versatility of their shop techs to include troubleshooting precision technology problems.

With precision techs stretched thin, especially during peak seasons, dealerships are taking a more integrated approach, cross-training their service department to take on added responsibility, such as hardware installations and lower level technology maintenance.

In theory, this frees up the dedicated precision specialists and managers to handle higher-level service calls and also allot time to sales and even agronomic expertise. But finding the right people for these hybrid roles presents a new set of challenges for dealers, who may no longer just be looking for mechanics.

The Outlook & Trends report notes that nearly 61% of the dealers polled say they want to add more service technicians to their staffs in 2018. This is up from 49% last year. A far smaller percentage say they plan to add precision farming specialists; 12.6% in 2018 vs. 11.6% last year.

It will be interesting to see if these percentages change again in the coming year, depending on how successful dealers are in their hunt for talent and whether more will look to a modified model for delivering service to customers.

Says one dealer of the greatest challenge facing his precision business, “Employee advancement and turnover out of the precision department is a concern. Being able to get fresh employees up to speed and ahead of our early adopter customers is something we’re continuously working on.”