A look at how quality education generates first-class results and repeat business.
Training: It’s perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of our industry. Today, everyone at least pays lip service to training and a goodly proportion follow through and take training, but it’s not always easy to quantify the rewards of an automotive training regimen. While out in the showroom, the salesman of the year gets a cruise or a blender, in the back end and on the independent service shop floor the most frequent reward is a warm handshake.
On behalf of hardworking technicians and their bosses throughout this great land, we have identified some tangible benefits that accrue to shops, managers and technicians that have elected to add to their skills through training courses and programs.
Chris August, owner of Affordable Auto Repairs in Vernon, B.C., runs the first and only shop in Canada to so far achieve NAPA Platinum Certification two years in a row. August is quick to point out that technician training in Canada is good to begin with; graduates are respected for their skills as soon as they earn their certificates.
Nonetheless, he and many other shop managers know that the future depends on continuous training, and August is steadfast in his support of his small but keen crew in their skills development goals.
Tony Doyle and Chris Dubnyk co-own nine Active Green & Ross shops in Hamilton, Ont., and can quickly point to milestones their devotion to team training has brought them. The operation has grown from two stores to nine in just five years and from 50 staff to 75. They now accommodate a dozen co-op students in addition and are building the staff to meet the demands of the future.
The company policy is to pay for and support all and any training. “If it’s something that makes you better for the company and for yourself we’ll pay for it,” Doyle emphasizes. That includes technical training, but other courses too. “If a service advisor wants to improve his or her skills by taking a business course, we’re behind them.” The company pays for all training.
So what are the rewards? For Doyle, retention is a benefit. “No one leaves,” he tells us. A consistently capable workforce keeps the shops competitive and successful, but that cannot be achieved without what Doyle cal ls “planting the seed.” Starting from their very first day, employees are encouraged to grow and gain skills so that the staff become capable specialists.
The company has seen more tangible rewards such as business acumen recognition from the Hamilton Spectator and others, all of which help to grow and cultivate business.
Automotive mechanics would appear to all share certain characteristics. They could be described as down to earth. That translates into some simple goals—doing a good job probably ranks number one with making money close behind. According to Chris August, technicians are often frustrated and want to know how to do things. “If a job calls for an hour and a quarter and after 40 minutes the tech is still looking up how to do it, they will get frustrated.”
So training meets that need, but what else? For August’s shop, there’s a cycle of benefits. Because the technicans are skilled, particularly when it comes to high end vehicles, they get repeat business and even referrals from other facilities who don’t have the skills to work on Mercedes- Benzes, BMWs and other more complex brands. Since Vernon doesn’t have dealers for MINI or Jaguar, Affordable Auto Repairs also attracts the lion’s share of work on vehicles from these brands.
More work translates into more of a budget to pay the team and more budget for training that creates capabilities that, in turn, attract more business. “If you can repair a Mercedes S-Class, you can fix anything,” August feels. “Those cars represent what’s next in technology and our reputation for know-how is enhanced. That helps with all of our business.”
That reputation has meant significantly more demand, so that a two week lead for an appointment is now required where you could get a spot just one week in advance only a year ago. Not only is the pay rate good but there are also bonuses for completed courses and the crew completes many.
Increased business, more rewards
Ethan Bregger, Aftermarket Training Manager at Tenneco, confirms that training translates into increased business. When customers come into a shop for an oil change or other service, shocks are not what they are asking for. After taking courses for both service advisors and technicians, shops can increase shock and strut replacements as much as 20 to 30 percent by understanding the skills to assess, and demonstrating and explaining to customers the need for replacement. That increased level can be sustained if the staff continue to refer to training courses or take new ones on an ongoing basis.
Like some other suppliers, Federal-Mogul makes it interesting with its Garage Rewards program. You can earn points a number of ways, but members can earn 1,500 for each day a member participates in a qualifying training workshop at any of Federal-Mogul Motorparts’ state-of-the-art Garage Gurus technical education centres. Points are also available for participating in qualifying Garage Gurus online and field training courses. The merchandise rewards range from Champion Spark Plug Shirts to GoPro cameras to each acknowledging the participant for taking part.
In the end, training can be its own reward. Many technicians, service advisors and managers tell us they went into the automotive business for the enjoyment of taking care of customers. The better they can accomplish their tasks, the more satisfying the job becomes.