Maximizing Mentoring

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Integrating mentorship into shop operations can reap big rewards. Photo Huw Evans

Integrating learning practices into business operations is a major key to success.

There is no question that the auto care industry and many service centres are having to contend with a shortage of qualified technicians. Whether the shop itself has fewer of them working day-to-day, or difficulty in finding and retaining suitable candidates, the situation is challenging and isn’t expected to improve any time soon. According to AIA Canada’s 2023 Labour Market Report, a big reason is due to lower-than-average compensation in the auto care sector compared with other skilled trades, as well as the highly complex and demanding work required to fix modern vehicles.

Furthermore, with Canada’s workforce aging, and 27,900 workers expected to retire by 2031, (which make up 53% of all job openings), service centres face some major headwinds when it comes to labour shortages.

Multi-pronged approach

Filling the pipeline requires a multi-pronged approach, including collaboration between governments, higher learning institutions and the industry in developing effective recruitment programs and more effective promotion of skilled trades. Others include reintroducing technical and shop programs in elementary and high schools, increasingly, industry and government are looking at ways to bolster recruitment through temporary foreign worker programs.

In the long term, however, the auto care sector will need to focus on growing talent at home, which is where Mentorship programs can play a key role.

According to Chris Thorne, Manager, Auto Service Provider Training with UAP (NAPA) the importance of on-the-job mentoring cannot be stressed enough. “Given the importance of the technician as the revenue generator of the shop’s business, it is essential that on-the-job mentoring happen for technicians of various levels to become more skilled.”

Thorne explains that knowledge tends to be most effectively passed from those people who are closest in terms of the job the trainee or junior technician is performing.

He says that in many training classes, while a lot of theory and hands-on type of repair information is frequently provided, the real benefits come when it’s followed up with examples of vehicles coming in with similar issues to what’s highlighted in the training, providing more opportunities for more in the shop to learn and not just those are the most talented. “As more of your technicians can learn, the shop then becomes more flexible with the skills those technicians have, relating to the types of problems they face.”

Lens of technology

Additionally, in today’s auto care environment, mentorship programs also need to be evaluated through the lens of technology. As Jean-Francois Champagne, President of AIA Canada explains, “Effective mentors need to be able to properly utilize the technology that is available to them in order to effectively teach their students and allow them to grow. He also stresses that it’s important that apprentices get to experience the entire scope of services the shop provides to its customers, otherwise the process itself isn’t truly effective.

At UAP, Chris Thorne says that effective mentorship also requires the mentors themselves to be properly paid for the time they are instructing and assisting other technicians learning on the job. It can be very tempting for shop owners and managers to view mentoring as a loss of productivity, but as Thorne stresses, this is not the way it should be considered. “This time needs to be considered as an investment in their future and if done effectively will result in greater ability for technicians to perform more work and increase overall efficiency and productivity of the shop.”

It’s also important to consider that effective mentorship is a two-way street—requiring input from both mentors and apprentices. “They [apprentices] must understand that they are responsible for their overall knowledge, and they need to continue to work at it,” says Thorne. This can be done via any number of avenues from, eLearning to night and specialty courses, or any applicable training available. “In our industry, we need to be constantly learning—especially apprentices so they can reach the level and capability of some of the more talented, fully licensed journeypersons.”

Part of the overall expenses

Mike Urban, Owner, Urban Automotive. Photo Mike Urban

Additionally, in order for mentorship to work consistently, it also needs to be considered as part of overall business expenses for the shop. “Government subsidization should also be taken advantage of whenever it is available,” explains Thorne. “The entire business model should support an ongoing training and mentorship program since it is required to be successful with the overall business plan.” This means that a service centre has to optimally manage, track and charge for their time, parts, supplies and overall overhead (including) all of the shop expenses such as tools, equipment and training!

When it does, the results can be very beneficial. “Well-trained technicians possess the knowledge and skills required to diagnose and repair vehicles accurately and efficiently,” says Mike Urban, who owns and operates Urban Automotive in Oakville, Ontario. Furthermore, well-trained technicians are also better communicators, ensuring a smoother and more transparent experience for the customer. “Trained technicians take pride in their workmanship,” explains Urban, “and strive to deliver the highest standards of service, ensuring that customers receive reliable repairs and positive outcomes with every [single] visit to your shop.”



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