Not only finding good apprentices but keeping them is the key to long-term success.
Most technicians start their career as lube technicians, tire changers or in the wash bay. Learning these valuable skills are some of the building blocks of doing more advanced jobs, as well as learning the discipline and skills needed to become a great employee.
After serving some time in the metaphorical trenches, service managers notice these good employees and will generally offer them an apprenticeship. Once these first-year apprentices are officially signed up, they will be eager to jump into that first engine rebuild.
But let’s hold on a minute. That isn’t exactly how it often works in real life.
Major time consumption
From my own discussions with apprentices, it can be common that those odd jobs around the shop continue to take up much of their time even after they are signed up as an apprentice.
In talking with my students, the number one theme that tends to repeat itself is that apprentices would like to be able to complete more repair work. This doesn’t mean they want to start with tackling engine rebuilds, but they would like to start small.
When the next brake job comes into the shop, consider having the apprentice complete one side of the vehicle with a senior technician completing the other before checking the apprentice’s work when they are complete.
Of course, the same process could be repeated for larger repair jobs as well once the apprentice becomes more skilled.
One of the main reasons an apprentice is concerned about the amount of work that they need to complete is the Ontario College of Trades Apprenticeship Training Standard Logbook that tracks their on-the-job training hours.
The sponsor of the apprentice needs to remember that this book needs to be filled out in full before the apprentice can write their Certificate of Qualification Exam. Maybe this would lead to a monthly meeting where the technician and sponsor can sit down and review what they have done and the items that they still need to complete.
This would open up a strategy of completion not only for the employer but also the apprentice, so they can have input into the plan as well.
Always an apprentice
On the other hand, there is often pressure for these apprentices to be placed on quick lube services even after they have received their licence.
This can be one of the biggest hurdles for apprentices, feeling they will always be the “apprentice” in a shop even after they have completed their certification. This ‘feeling’ can lead to technicians finishing their apprenticeship and leaving the shop they were trained at, ultimately leaving everyone speechless because they are not sure what happened.
As shop owners/industry professionals, we need to embrace these future technicians and find the skills that they bring to our respective teams.
Being brought up in today’s day in age, it can be assumed that most of these future technicians have significant technological skills. Maybe someone in the shop is struggling with completing software updates.
I recently met an apprentice with significant education in computer science who would be perfect to team up with someone more experienced who wants to learn this skill. You may find that—with a little training—you have one of the best re-programmers in the shop.
We always need to remember that everyone in the industry brings their individual knowledge and skills that they have learned from other aspects of their lives.
Instead of assuming an apprentice has little value at the start of their apprenticeship, I feel we need to learn more about each other to ensure that those valuable skills are used to the best of their abilities.
Doing so will lead to building up a strong team that can accomplish any repair in an effective and timely manner.
Devin Purcell is a Red Seal Automotive Technician with over 20 years of experience and a professor at Fanshawe College, London, Ont., in the School of Transportation Technology and Apprenticeship. You can reach him at [email protected]