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Executive Interview

Executive Interview with Howard Kesten, President and Founder of Workboards

Our latest edition of “Executive Interview” features Howard Kesten, president and founder of Workboards, which launched the automotive job site, aftermarketJobs.com, in December 2003. A two-time guest speaker at AAPEX, Kesten is also founder and CEO of APA Search, Inc., an executive search and human resources consulting firm serving the automotive industry. In 18 years, he has placed more than 1,600 automotive professionals. Join us as Kesten provides an introduction to aftermarketJobs.com and shares with us his predictions for the future of the aftermarket and the job market.

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ARMONK, NY —

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Every other week, aftermarketNews.com offers an interview with a high-profile individual in the automotive aftermarket. We give executives free rein to express their views on anything from the state of their corporations to recent legislative news to future trends in their niche markets. Here you see what matters to the newsmakers themselves.

Our latest edition of “Executive Interview” features Howard Kesten, president and founder of Workboards, which launched the automotive job site, aftermarketJobs.com, in December 2003.

A two-time guest speaker at AAPEX, Kesten is also founder and CEO of APA Search, Inc., an executive search and human resources consulting firm serving the automotive industry. In 18 years, he has placed more than 1,600 automotive professionals. Kesten has an extensive background in the automotive industry. Prior to founding APA, Kesten was co-founder and operator of PMG Automotive Warehouse. He has also held senior positions at Dana Corp. and Hercules Automotive Products.

Join us as Kesten provides an introduction to aftermarketJobs.com and shares with us his predictions for the future of the aftermarket and the job market.

Q: First off, tell us a little about your own professional background and the qualifications that led you to launch aftermarketJobs.com.

As a retained automotive recruiter for more than 17 years, my executive search company placed more than 1,600 automotive professionals at all levels. A few years ago we recognized that some of our business was being lost to the large generalist job boards like Monster.com. Our clients who were using these generalist job boards mentioned to us that they found it difficult and time consuming to find industry relevant candidates. So basically we decided to build a better mousetrap.

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Our recruiters spent many hours working with other job boards and helped us design an automotive job board that was simple to use, with job titles and terms that were relevant to the industry. Our goal was to create a place where automotive industry professionals and employers could quickly find each other.

Q: It’s been about four months now since aftermarketJobs.com was launched in December 2003. How is it going so far? What kind of reception has the Web site received from job seekers and employers?

Since we launched, we have seen double-digit increases in Web traffic from both employers and job seekers and we expect to see similar increases in the months ahead. We now average about 1,000 visitors each day.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and our best endorsement has come from what we have not received: complaints. When we created AFJ, our goal was to build a product that was transparent, a Web site that brought employers and job seekers together with minimal interference.

With more than 65,000 visitors and 11 gigabytes of data transferred to date, we have only received a handful of customer service calls that reflect usability issues — a fact we take great pride in.

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Q: Can you explain briefly how the system works? What are some of the main features?

When searching resumes and job postings on other job boards, employers and job seekers will not connect if they do not use the identical keywords for their searches. Our patent-pending “Smart Search” technology addresses the recruiting market’s need for a more intuitive and accurate job search interface.

The user-friendly interface employs industry-specific terms and offers a significant improvement over the flawed “keyword” search that leads to generalized mismatches. Smart Search also enables users to take advantage of our resume-building process, which indexes the job seeker’s complete set of relevant experience and qualifications for employers to review. We also provide higher levels of anonymity for job seekers who want to post a resume, as well as provide the job seekers with a terrific resume creation tool.

Q: What are the benefits to using an online job search program such as aftermarketJobs.com versus conducting a search independently or relying on general classified listings?

Online postings have four distinct advantages over traditional recruiting means: cost, speed, reach and depth of information.

Reach: General classified listings are limited by the medium itself. For example, when placing an ad in the classifieds, that employer will only reach those job seekers who read that paper, and then only those editions that have his or her ad. With jobs posted of aftermarketJobs.com, the post reaches thousands of automotive industry professionals and remains posted for 60 days. As such, any job seeker who visits the website during those 60 days will have an opportunity to apply to that job. The ad can be viewed by anyone on the Internet, regardless of where the actual employer is located.

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Depth of Information: A classified ad only allows for a very limited amount of information to be presented in a very small space. To attract the best candidates, a recruiting ad needs to “sell” job seekers on the opportunity AND the company. Online postings allow hiring companies to present themselves and their open job opportunities much more comprehensively.

Speed: Online ads are posted immediately and are not dependent on the next edition to be published. As job seekers continue to add resumes to the database, employers will receive resumes faster. With just a few clicks, a job seeker can apply to a job in moments.

Cost: Perhaps the most compelling argument for employers is cost. A 60-day ad on aftermarketJobs.com costs an employer $150, much less than the cost of traditional classifieds. When combined with the complimentary tools available online to manage the hiring process, aftermarketJobs.com presents the most complete and efficient hiring solution.

Q: What are the benefits for employers who are looking for assistance in filling open positions in their companies?

Automotive industry employers can now be assured that relevant industry personnel will see their advertisement. With a generalist job board or conventional print advertising there are no guarantees that the right people will see the employer’s ad. Additionally, automotive professionals who are perusing the AFJ.com Web site can quickly and easily forward job postings to their industry friends who might not otherwise ever hear or read about the opportunity.

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Perhaps for the first time in the history of recruiting, the Internet is allowing employers and job seekers to connect over large distances. In the past, an employer would place a classified ad in his or her local paper, only tapping that local pool of job seekers. Now, that “local pool” spans the whole United States. Using the Internet, and the vast exposure that an online job post can offer, an employer on one side of the country can now contact job seekers on the other. In theory, an employer’s next hire could be from anywhere the Internet reaches.

Q: How do you find/create relationships with the companies that feature job listings on your site? Conversely, how do you reach job seekers?

In addition to advertising through magazines and other traditional channels, we are contacting job seekers through several non-traditional means as well. We are employing a combination of banner ads, email marketing campaigns and contacting public relations outlets. General word-of-mouth has also started to rise as job seekers are visiting the site and forwarding jobs to their colleagues.

With respect to employers, we are contacting the HR departments of various companies directly over the phone and have had great success in this regard. Employers who have visited our Web site have given us overwhelmingly positive feedback, and several well-known employers are already posting their opportunities.

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Q: What kinds of jobs can currently be found on the site at any given time? Are the jobs strictly U.S. jobs, or do you have a global presence?

At this time, aftermarketJobs.com is U.S.-based only, but we plan to expand internationally, in multiple languages. From our standpoint, the demand is clearly there. Due to the global nature of the Internet, we have already received resumes from international job seekers interested in opportunities in the U.S. In the future, we plan to allow U.S. job seekers to apply to jobs internationally, with our site seamlessly translating resumes into the country-specific language.

Q: Do you find any commonalities in the needs of aftermarket employers? What kind of skill sets are aftermarket companies looking for today?

In general, aftermarket employers are seeking candidates with higher degrees of education and increased levels of competence in their chosen fields. For example, individuals who are seeking employment in a plant or warehouse distribution environment are now required to have solid computer skills and problem solving abilities. Companies seeking mid- to senior-level manager candidates are increasingly attracted to individuals who have experience in companies from more progressive industries such as consumer packaged goods. Qualified professionals having a combination of automotive and non-automotive experience are in high demand

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In the automotive service sector, technicians will continue to be required to be trained in and understand the latest new vehicle technologies on the market.

Q: What does the employment landscape look like over the next ten years?.

Over the next ten years there will be an average of 2.6 new jobs created for each new person who enters the American labor market, according to Interbiznet.com, “2003 Trends: The Human Capital Marketplace”. Most of these jobs will surface in specialized industries such as the automotive aftermarket.

As this occurs, acquiring new employees and retaining existing personnel will become increasingly competitive and challenging. According to the US Federal Government, by 2010, the overall labor shortage, measured in unfulfilled jobs, will be 21.3 percent because of declining birthrates, baby-boomer retirement and new regulations affecting the supply of foreign workers.

Most of the immediate shortages will occur in low-level service and production jobs, which tend to be in niche industries. Over the next decade however, the report predicts that white-collar shortages will result in a 13 percent labor shortage. It’s time to start developing people internally for our future human resource requirements.

Q: The aftermarket is one of the biggest employers in the U.S., employing more people than U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Government. What are your predictions for the future of the aftermarket industry? Where do we go from here?

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Currently, the automotive industry as a whole employs 9.8 percent of America’s work force. The aftermarket, which represents about 30 percent of that number will continue to thrive providing we adjust to the globalization of the automotive industry as a whole. There needs to be a better recruiting effort to bring young people into the automotive aftermarket.

There is still a shortage of technicians in the aftermarket, which will continue to affect companies throughout the entire supply chain. With less available technicians in the future, aftermarket labor rates will increase and result in increased pressure on parts pricing. This pressure will ultimately affect aftermarket manufacturers and distributors.

Additionally, domestic aftermarket manufacturers will experience increasing pressure from offshore, low-cost producers, and ultimately be forced into establishing partnering relationships with these producers. Clearly this means less manufacturing jobs in the U.S. As this occurs, we will see an increase in the number of available positions in the areas of information system technology, logistics, marketing and general business development.

There will greater cooperation and partnership between manufacturers and distributors, linked ever more closely through the greater use of technology.

There will continue to be more industry consolidation at the manufacturer and distribution level. More OE suppliers are going to enter the traditional aftermarket, and automotive retailers will continue to grow their commercial business segments. As compared to some other industries like consumer electronics, the aftermarket will experience less aggressive growth, but will remain, as it has always done, more stable than other industries during an economic downturn.

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As consumers inevitably refocus their attention on fuel economy due to the geopolitical dynamics of the 21st century, some of the industry revenue lost in the past to under and unperformed vehicle maintenance will be recouped.

Independent aftermarket installers will face increased competition from new car dealers for general repair dollars and vehicle customization dollars.

As always, a whole new generation of innovative companies will appear on the scene keeping the more well known behemoths on their toes…and the cycle continues.

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