It was a beautiful commencement ceremony. The speeches were entertaining and inspirational. Each graduate’s name was called and their family members all stood cheering with pride and enthusiasm. It really was a wonderful day!

Tassels are turned from right to left in unison followed by a thunderous ovation. The master of ceremonies then took the microphone for the final moments and said…

“Now… who’s ready to take an up?

Silence ensues and the face of every fresh graduate is now plastered in a look of utter disgust.

Perhaps the scenario I just painted is a bit far fetched. But the fact that graduates consider careers in the automotive industry as attractive as the opportunities awaiting them in waste management and retail is an issue that we ALL must consider.

I know what you’re thinking. Recent graduates have a reputation of being entitled, spoiled, hard to manage and have a poor worth ethic. While these may be traits of some 21 to 25 year olds, they are no more prominent in the members of the class of 2015 than they were in the class of 1980, 1987, 1993 or 2005. The problem is not with the graduate… the problem is the graduates perception of the auto industry. And as the years pass, this problem (and I know it’s not a new one) continues to worsen.

Dealerships across our entire nation are consistently in search of good salespeople. Ask any General Manager or General Sales Manager the question “Do you need salespeople?” and the answer will always be “Do you know anybody?” Combine the shortage of qualified candidates with the shift in consumer shopping behavior and the need for “new minds” is heightened to a level never before seen. Unfortunately, most salespeople with 20+ years of experience are now dinosaurs and are watching meteors pierce the atmosphere.  Armed only with high pressure closing techniques and the unfortunate habit of answering any objection with a rebuttal that starts with “If I could…” the days of “If-ing” and going for the pressure commitment (“If I could get the payment down to $299, do we have a deal?”) are over.

Now take the graduate’s situation into mind. 71% of grads leave school with an average of $31,000 in student loan debt and only 17% have a job lined up before they leave their dorm room. Yet, a career in the automotive business (namely auto sales for this article), or at least one starting their career in this field is looked at with the same distaste as a “job” at Forever 21 or Target. 

“I’m just going to work here till something better comes along where I can use my degree” are the words most recent grads say to themselves to help muster up the strength and bury the shame necessary to make their 5:30am punch-in time. Is there a better alternative?… of course there is. But it’s up to US to inform and educate it to them. 

When I personally recently asked some members of the class of 2015 and 2016 about auto sales, I was told (on more than one occasion) that working at a car dealership would be “beneath them” and that they wouldn't even consider it. What a shame.

In another survey I recently conducted with adults in careers in management or entrepreneurship, 90% of participants agreed the automotive industry provided the “real world” education required to be successful in business. Specific lessons learned and mastered included…

 

How to give an effective demo

True “one on one” communication

Persistence

Patience

 

Overcoming fears

Building self confidence

Negotiation

Networking

Identifying a person’s need or problem

Presenting solutions

 

These are all lessons that any truly successful business person MUST master to be effective and successful. The problem lies in the fact that graduates equate wearing plaid suits with paisley ties and changing their name to “Vito” or “Rocco” (nothing against all you guys named Vito or Rocco) with selling automobiles. It’s up to US to change that image and present real world examples of how auto sales benefits the graduate, giving them real world experience that they will use for their entire career. 

Dealers need to set up REAL training programs for new hires that includes certification from the manufacturer. They need to be invested financially and provide a lucrative pay plan with an earnings guarantee for a set period of time (a position in commissioned sales is frightening to most if not all grads). Most achievers will over-earn their guarantee, so there is minimal risk for the dealer and removal of anxiety for the new hire. Bonus’ based on generation of positive customer reviews, manufacturer certification levels and advancement in sales training will be attractive as grads want to “continue their learning” and be in a position to “make a change for the better.” 

What could be better than being a part of changing the way people buy automobiles, thus changing the perception of the auto industry as a whole. What’s better than being the remedy for the anxiety and nervousness that comes with just the anticipation of having to buy a car. Nearly everyone drives, so the reach is limitless.

The time is NOW my Dealer, General Manager and General Sales Manager friends. The herd is dwindling fast with even the strongest either retiring or leaving for greener pastures. Salespeople are our most prized and integral staff members. It is truly in EVERYONE’S best interest to appeal to the young, sell them on our mission of change, sell them on what’s “in it for them” and let’s staff our sales floors with salespeople that are “like minded”… not necessarily with us, but with our customers. Let’s allow them to sell some cars, gain some skills, make some money, and in the end, we will all benefit from it.