THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Dealerships fire up their recruiting engines

Despite the doldrums, there's a nationwide demand for salespeople and service technicians.

By WARREN BROWN
Los Angeles Times

Given recent news about declining car and truck sales, one might assume that selling cars and trucks is a dismal business with few openings for bright people in search of meaningful careers.

But like many assumptions, that one is wrong. According to a report just released in Orlando, Fla., at the 89th annual meeting of the National Automobile Dealers Assn., which represents 20,000 car and truck dealerships, nearly all of the nation's automotive retail outlets are scrambling to find qualified people to help run their business.

The head hunt is on even at dealerships selling products made by General Motors and Ford, which have spent much of this past year struggling to halt erosion of sales and market share.

The favored prescription for the recovery of those two companies has been an injection of new, better and more attractive cars and trucks. But now, with those vehicles on the way, GM and Ford dealers and executives say they need more qualified people to sell and service their products.

The employment report, based on a survey by Harris Interactive Inc., a market-research firm in Rochester, N.Y., estimates that 104,803 career job slots are available at the nation's dealerships.

"America's franchised auto dealers are hanging out the help-wanted sign all across the country," said Alan Starling, chairman of Auto Retailing Today, a coalition of major automotive manufacturers and dealer organizations that handles public relations for the retail side of the business.

But, partly because of news of the financial problems of domestic car companies and a wide-spread belief that selling cars is a business for hustlers, many of those help-wanted appeals are being ignored, said Denise Patton-Pace, an Auto Retailing Today spokeswoman.

"We keep running into parents who don't want their children to get into the business because they have a bad image of it," she said. "But you can make a good living in this business."

Nationally, according to the Harris survey, most of the available dealership jobs — 42,198 of them — are in sales. The second-largest number of vacancies is in service — 37,329. There are an estimated 7,120 administrative and clerical jobs open and another 6,903 slots available for managers. A miscellaneous category — information-technology specialists, fleet-sales experts, vehicle-preparation assistants and janitors — has 11,253 available dealership jobs, according to the Harris survey of 657 franchised new-vehicle dealers in the United States, conducted Jan. 5 to 14.

Selling cars is not easy. "It's a people business," said Tamara Darvish, vice president of the Darcars Automotive Group. "And we need people who understand how to deal with people, how to figure out what they need, and to follow up with them on sales and service calls," she said.

The service jobs available in auto dealerships are not the same jobs open to the shade-tree mechanics of years past. Today's cars and trucks are motorized computers, highly technological machines that require computer-literate and math-savvy technicians.