Have you hugged your mechanic today?

A recent topic on a bowling technician website caught my attention. It was posted by a proprietor wanting to know why he could not find a mechanic for his center. Bowltech.com is visited by some of the best techs from around the world as well as several manufacturers. The gentleman had been trying to hire a mechanic for the past three years with hardly a nibble.

After posting his compensation package, he was still in a quandary as to why good mechanics are so hard to find. Several members of the bulletin board responded that many topnotch techs were lured or forced to seek maintenance positions outside the bowling industry. Others were very happy staying where they were, having growing families and roots in the area. A few even felt that they had been driven out of the bowling industry by management that treated them as "second class citizens".                        

Money is a consideration - a good tech can be worth $20-30 per hour - and many are doing the job with little or no benefits. To many techs, the work environment is also an important consideration. A number of techs I talked to said that they felt as though they were being isolated from the rest of the employees.

Having spent over 25 years as a mechanic, I am sympathetic with both the proprietor and the maintenance people. Hiring a head maintenance technician can be one of the toughest things an owner has to do. Starting a new position can also be stressful for a head mechanic. Hopefully, with the suggestions that follow, everyone's life can be a little easier.

What to look for and where to look

Working on bowling equipment is a highly specialized occupation and is probably the least respected as far as the industry goes as a whole. It has evolved to the point where the tech is expected to not only work on the pinsetting equipment, its peripherals, and maintain high scoring lanes, but also must be a computer whiz, a plumber, carpenter, an electrician, an appliance repairman, and an inventory specialist. In some centers he must drill bowling balls and in the same day, help in the snack bar.

The head mechanic is on call anytime the center is open (most are open about 18 hours a day) and is expected to come in and do repairs on weekends and evenings. Many work for long weeks during state and national tournaments without a day off. He is in charge of his night and weekend employees and therefor needs to have some "people skills." These skills are applied when dealing with customers as well. Meetings regarding employee relations should include your head technician

When searching out a candidate for your position, you should decide how much experience is desired. Longevity in the bowling industry can be a sign capability. Seasoned veterans are going to be rarer to find and will also be harder to woo away from their current locations.

Many of the large chain operations promote from within their own companies, moving techs through their training programs towards the goal of placing them in company centers. Some of these younger mechanics have great attitudes and are more likely to be open to the idea of relocation. The hunt for a new key employee should start with ads placed in the trade magazines and the numerous job related websites.

After reviewing the current crop of ads, I noticed most ads for managers were well written. These ads used colorful words and conveyed a feeling of excitement. Most ads for mechanics seemed dull, with little more than a stark description of the position. The use of descriptive language with a more detailed explanation of the position being offered can make your ad stand out. Word of mouth can also bring you results.

Contact bowling suppliers in your area. These distribution centers have contact with mechanics from around the country, and can get the word out to bowling world about your vacancy. Also, do not discount technicians from outside the United States. Some outstanding mechanics live overseas and might be willing to make a big location change. Be sure to include your e-mail address in your ad. This will make responding much easier for those who are not in your immediate area.

Once you begin to receive responses to an ad, take the time to check references. A well written resume with job history is an important tool in determining the viability of the prospective employee. Skills that are listed on the resume can also give you an idea of what you can expect out of an individual.

If a desired attribute is missing, you must determine if the individual is worthy of the cost of additional training. Many colleges offer night and weekend classes in fields that can be helpful to the bowling center. These classes can add to the value of the mechanic and in the long run, save a center a substantial amount of money. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning classes and clinics are offered by some manufacturers. Welding and electronic classes are available at most Vo-Tech schools.

In some specialized centers, such as military and casino operations; the mechanic has the luxury of a staff of other professionals who will take care of the various areas of the building. This leaves him with the bowling operation to maintain. Even in these centers, the head mechanic should have a rudimentary knowledge of facility maintenance on his resume.

What to offer

A good package of benefits can assist in bringing a quality employee into your organization. Health insurance, profit sharing and retirement can carry a lot of weight when looking for an important addition to the bowling center team. A compensation package that includes assistance with relocation costs is a big plus. Moving a new employee and family across the country is an expensive proposition. Hourly versus salary is something that should be discussed. This issue can be extremely sensitive and should not have any "gray areas" regarding overtime or extra compensation for extra work accomplished.

Contacting other centers and non-bowling facilities can give you valuable insight regarding pay and benefits. Check with hospitals, bakeries and manufacturing facilities near you. The engineering departments of these businesses can give insight into what kind of competition you might face in the event of a mechanic leaving your center. Review all of the jobs that will be required of your head maintenance tech, and compensate him accordingly.

Money, however is not everything. Having the tools he needs is another benefit that can bring a good mechanic into the center. A good set of hand tools along with the necessary electric or air equipment can make many repairs easier. In this quickly changing world, some high tech tools are becoming necessary.

Access to a computer and a cell phone is very important. Many technical drawing and wiring diagrams can be emailed directly to a mechanic. Most manufacturers now have websites with support for their products. Bowltech.com and Facebook mechanic pages have a wealth of information for both the beginner and the most experienced mechanic.

Another important tool is continuing education. Most manufacturers offers clinics and seminars year round. A well informed maintenance staff is critical to a center's success.

The ability to manage the budget for the department is another thing many techs feel that they should have control of. When a part or supplies are needed, he should be able to place an order without having to jump through flaming hoops. Many mechanics have abused this freedom and have forced management to take hard stands on spending. Still, an arrangement should be possible without compromising the maintenance of the equipment or the building.

Most long time mechanics share one thing in common...a love for what they do. Not much compares to the feeling of accomplishment they get when they hear the gentle hum of "their" equipment. The head of maintenance in many cases in responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of equipment. The livelihoods of all the employees in the center are directly tied to his ability. The enjoyment and comfort of your customers depend on this "Rodney Dangerfield" of the bowling industry. View him as an important member of management. Provide a set of work uniforms, include him in decisions and give him "some respect."

Finding the right person might take some time, but the search can bring you a true professional, someone who is ready and willing to contribute to the success of your center.

Bill Walters

Currently Bill is Kegel's Pinsetter Parts Technical Support Coordinator. He has over 34 years of experience on Brunswick Model A and A-2 pinsetters and 8 years of experience on Brunswick GSX pinsetters.