Better Training, Better Satisfaction, Better Results

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Effective training provides a whole range of benefits for service centres. Photo Huw Evans

Proper upskilling practices offer a multitude of benefits.

It’s well documented that one of the biggest issues facing the auto care sector in Canada is a shortage of skilled service technicians. According to AIA Canada’s 2023 Labour Market Report, 65% of mechanical and collision shop owners saw an increase in technician turnover during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 46% of those technicians leaving the sector for higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

Persistent lower wages than other skilled trades such as construction, a higher job vacancy to employment ratio in auto care, where 59% of the workforce are technicians, plus a very significant labour gap (4,000 plus vacancies) are making it tough for many operators.

And with little sign of things changing, certainly, in the foreseeable future, service providers will need to focus on ensuring the technicians they have are the best in the business, meaning high quality, effective training must be a key priority.

Understanding requirements

According to Chris Thorne, Manager, Auto Service Provider Training with UAP (NAPA) effective training begins by listening to talented technicians and shop owners and understanding what current vehicle servicing and technology requirements are today. Thorne says that while it can be tempting for shop owners to try and get far out ahead in new technology and equipment, doing so can have a negative impact on technician retention since it can discourage technicians, since they can become overwhelmed and dissatisfied fueling a desire to exit the business or the entire industry.

Instead, Thorne suggests to still focus on the future, but emphasize more on putting in place training programs that will help technicians and shop staff today.

What can make training programs really effective, is when the technicians feel they understand the technology and equipment and are able to effectively leverage it to improve their proficiency and productivity. For shop owners, the benefit comes when they can see an immediate return on the knowledge gained through training investment.

“Most progressive shops understand that technology is ever-changing and being able to get prepared course materials and content delivered by a professional trainer saves them a lot of time and effort,” says Thorne.

Shared knowledge

Over at Urban Automotive, in Oakville, Ontario, proprietor Mike Urban says that creating a learning environment where technicians are encouraged to share knowledge and learn from each other, so they can grow as a team is also essential. He says that when it comes to training, service centres need to “understand that [training] is an investment in the future success of the business and that ultimately, it can lead to higher profits and a more competitive edge in the market.”

Yet in practice, the auto care sector still struggles, with many service centres not investing enough in training.

Mark Lemay, President of Autoaide Technical Services, which provides technician training for independent service providers, notes that he’s hosted technician training close to major urban centres, and he’ll have 25 participants show up. “These are areas where there is a fairly large population base, and when we have 25 attendees, it doesn’t bode well for the shops or the industry.

“When we look at courses like flash programming, which every shop should be doing, often, we can’t get enough people to sign up,” Lemay notes, however, the lack of participation in good quality training quickly has negative impacts on those service centres that don’t invest in it.

Chris Thorne, Manager, Auto Service Provider Training, UAP (NAPA). Photo Jean-Marie Savard

Complicating the situation

As a known expert in troubleshooting vehicles that aren’t running properly, he’s seen time and again situations where he’s had to send one of his technicians to a shop, that had an angry customer because they couldn’t fix the vehicle properly and further complicated by the fact that the shop charged the customer for the wrong service or replacement parts because their technicians did not have the proper training to fix the car properly in the first place.

On the flip side, Lemay says he’s also seen situations where shop owners and general managers have invested thousands of dollars training technicians, only to have these people leave and go somewhere else—a situation that’s been exacerbated by a shortage of technicians due to accelerated retirements and turnover during the COVID-19 pandemic. This environment has created a situation where some shops will start bidding wars, offering technicians more money.

The trouble is, this is often a short-term approach and if those higher wages don’t include the right training, the shop is stuck with higher labour costs and no better business opportunities, since the lack of training investment hasn’t enabled the business to elevate its service offerings and stay ahead of the curve when it comes to diagnostics and repair.

Lion’s share

According to Jean-Francois Champagne, President of AIA Canada, this is creating a situation where those service centres that do take the time to invest properly in training will ultimately capture the lion’s share of the auto care market. “Without upskilling, it will be impossible for a service centre to continue to offer reliable and safe repairs in the next few years, if not already,” he says.

The irony is, that if one shop lures away a technician from another that heavily invested in training, purely for more pay, and that shop doesn’t invest properly in training, chances are the technician will end up back at the previous service centre because the other had to close due to a lack of capability to fix newer vehicles, causing its customer base and revenues to dwindle to the point where it was no longer viable as a business.

As Chris Thorne notes, “Word of mouth reputation is a shop owner’s most powerful marketing strategy. Better trained techs mean fewer comebacks and accessing more work because they have the ability and confidence to do it rather than pass and have someone else do it.” Additionally, he says, progressive service centres that invest properly in training and their people have been able to “build entirely new revenue streams for work they might have referred to a dealership or local expert in the past.”



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