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Building a Pipeline for the Future

Autosphere » Collision » Building a Pipeline for the Future
J.R. Martino is Vice President and Managing Partner of Budds' Collision Services, one of the most progressive facilities of its kind in North America. He can be reached at [email protected]. Photo J.R. Martino

Consistent labour Investments today are key to long-term success.  

Last time in this column, we saw how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the collision repair industry and caused some of the trends that were already taking place to accelerate. For this article, I wanted to focus on a specific topic: labour shortages. 

One thing about the pandemic, aside from the reduction in repair volumes, was that many of our experienced technicians chose to accelerate their retirement plans. This has created a big gap in labour skills that need to be filled.

Planning and budgeting

From a shop perspective, whether you find yourself in serious need of new technicians or you’ve been able to recruit and train new people, often comes down to two things—planning and budgeting.

Looking at Budds’ Collision as an example, our approach for a long time has been to budget for having at least one apprentice in each department, including body repair and paint. There is a cost to the business for doing this because when the apprentice is learning they can’t really be considered productive. The benefit of budgeting for apprentices this way, however, is that it allows a collision shop to work consistently with technical colleges and high schools, as well as encourages family members of existing employees if they are looking for a career in collision repair. We’ve also found a big benefit in offering these apprenticeships to young support staff working at our affiliated dealer groups, that want an opportunity to get into this industry. 

Consistent and defined

The key to making it work is being consistent and offering a defined career development path. You need to be constantly seeking out those young individuals that have the enthusiasm and the right attitude for this industry. Good aptitude is essential because the rest can largely be taught. It’s that willingness to learn and contribute that will turn a good apprentice into a valued employee and member of the team. 

And because these people want to work with us every day, as an organization, we are willing to put the time and effort into helping them maximize their potential. And in our case, these apprenticeships don’t just apply to body repair technicians and painters, but also to estimators and parts positions as well.

Today, you need to consistently have somebody on staff that is being trained and mentored for each department within your collision shop, since not only does it help you mitigate short-term labour shortages—it also sets you up for long-term success because you have a pipeline of new employees who are consistently being trained. Another factor in making this successful is ensuring your key stakeholders, including equipment/solutions vendors and refinish partners take an active role. They can be hugely beneficial in helping set up comprehensive training programs that enable your employees to take their skills to the next level. In our case, we’ve partnered with stakeholders for estimating, painting and prep skills development. For body repair technicians, we’ve developed a Mentor Program where the apprentice works directly with the lead technician and to date, we’ve seen a lot of success with it.

This really became evident during the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic because we really didn’t lose staff. Many of them have been trained and brought up from a grassroots level and that has fostered a strong sense of trust and loyalty to the organization. 

Better opportunity

Those shops that haven’t taken the time to invest in nurturing apprentices as a long-term strategy are the ones in many cases that are constantly struggling to find technicians and qualified staff, since those people don’t feel valued by the organization and will often look for a better opportunity as soon as it is presented to them. 

And in the current environment, where acute labour shortages are a fact of life for many businesses, these shops can no longer afford to lose qualified people, especially if they want to remain in business for the long term. 

 

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