A common discussion I have with shop owners and technicians is about ongoing education. There seems to be several distinct opinions. There are shop owners who don't want to invest in their people’s skills for many of the reasons we've discussed here in previous columns. At the same time, there are shop owners who understand the value of investing in their team, but don't have full control of their business, which allows their team to say no to learning opportunities. There are experienced technicians who want to invest in the understanding of the technologies they are asked to repair, but there are many more techs who believe they know more than enough to get the job done without continuing their education. Put these parties together and you can get a stalemate. Only when both parties are in step and fully appreciate the value of continuing to improve their ability to readiness level will everyone win: shop owner, technician and customer alike.
One of the primary enablers to a shop’s success is a well-defined learning plan for everyone in the building. Shop owners, service advisors, young technicians and lead technicians should all have a career path that includes an ongoing education element. The learning plan should be developed based on the technologies your customers own, the services you offer and the experience level of your team. For experienced or in-service technicians, a learning plan should challenge them to learn new skills and master the latest technologies that are coming in the door. Continuing education should also create opportunities to perfect core skills. Keep in mind that a skill must be exercised on a regular basis to keep it sharp and ensure it is effectively – and profitably – applied. This is especially true when it comes to solving problems on complex electrical and computer-controlled systems. Depending on how you dispatch jobs to your team, there is the possibility that a skilled, experienced technician may only see a handful of these complex issues throughout a year. With that in mind, let's discuss the appropriate learning plan options for in-service technicians.
The key to any learning plan is to get buy in from everyone on your team, document the plan and set standards of performance to ensure you can hold your team accountable. This should be done up front each year and when you first hire and onboard new team members. First, establish a minimum standard: typically, this is the number of hours of training you expect each position on your team to attend. Say for example, your production team of technicians are segmented into three groups: new or inexperienced, journeymen and master (C-Techs, B-Techs and A-Techs). In our example, C-Techs do most of the maintenance work in the shop while B-Techs perform most undercar services like brake jobs and suspension work. A-Techs are focused on diagnostics and technology repairs. Our goal is to provide a training standard that ensures each position can be service ready while increasing their knowledge base to allow them to grow in their careers.
The growth element of this process is critical. Most millennials will tell you they want to make a difference and want to see a clear career path. If you don’t define that path and communicate it to them early and often, they can become easily disenfranchised and will move on without warning. Best practices in our example would be for C-Techs to receive 40+ hours of training that includes a mix of new-to-our-shop vehicles familiarization and core services training that will prepare them to step up to a B-Tech. Our B-Tech would be challenged to receive 60+ hours of training that updates them on the services they regularly perform, as well as new techniques that may improve service to your customers. The A-Tech should seek 80+ hours of training that cover technologies that will be arriving soon on those new-to-our-shop vehicles, while also seeking to constantly optimize their problem-solving skills. Set agreed upon benchmarks with your team and monitor the goal of being service ready year after year.
How best to activate training
Many of you meet or exceed the benchmarks suggested above every year, yet struggle with improving the productivity and quality of work in your shop. Techs may also struggle to move up to that next position in the company after years of training. The failure of most training programs is the lack of an activation plan. Some of our best CTI customers have seen success in their training efforts by implementing a simple activation that includes everyone attending each class together followed by a meeting at the shop the next day to discuss what they learned. The team then determines how to best implement the new knowledge learned. This is a great way of activating training, but many shops should consider an even more organized approach. Activation needs to be the foundation of the career paths set for each of your team members.
Unless your shop has a group of technicians with the same skills and level of understanding of each system, then you most likely have a mix of A-, B- and C-Techs. We need to recognize much of the learning in training is not necessarily implemented outside of the classroom. I suggest cultivating a mentoring culture in your shop that encourages technicians to share their learnings. For example, your A-Tech’s job description should be to mentor the B-Techs on the skills the B-Techs learn in the classroom or online training programs. Partnering an A-Tech with a B-Tech with the goal of improving the B-Tech’s skills and proficiency will produce in measurable improvement in the B-Techs work and ability to solve problems. Mentoring also helps your A-Techs grow. Challenging your experienced team members with activating new skills in your less experienced team members can result in a tremendous ROI on training. Starting to understand the picture?
Now don’t stop there. Match the B-Techs with your C-Techs, and allow the experienced B-Techs to find their footing as teachers as they mentor the C-Techs.
Now that we have laid the foundation of activating the training plan for our team, what should each of your techs be focusing on in the classroom? Here’s one outline that may work for your shop:
C-Techs should be focused on
- Fluids – how to select the right fluid for the vehicle and system
- Tires – recognize new tire technologies and how to repair or service them
- Batteries – how to identify the correct battery technology and how to service appropriately
- Inspections – understand the correct method of inspecting each system and the importance of this function to the customer
- Growth – knowledge needed to move to the next level such as brakes, steering & suspension, wheel alignment, electrical
B-Techs should be focused on
- Brakes – including new technologies associated to braking systems and new techniques to improve quality and proficiency
- Steering and Suspension – new technologies associated to steering and suspension with a focus on understanding how stability controls affect the way these systems are serviced and adjusted
- Electrical and Electronics – continuous immersion in the application of foundation skills on simple and more complex systems
- Problem-solving – including application of all learned skills and resources
- Growth – knowledge needed to move to the next level such as On Board Diagnostics, Fuel, Ignition and Emissions, and Data Networks
A-Techs should be focused on
- OBD – current and new enhancements to onboard diagnostics including changes in the requirements set forth by CARB and EPA
- New Technologies – current and new enhancements to Fuel, Ignition and Emissions systems with a focus on application of diagnostic techniques
- Data Networks – recognizing new communication protocols and updated PIDS, tests and bi-directional controls
- Problem- solving – continuous practice and improvement of critical thinking
- Mentoring – learning and exercising new ways of assisting B-Techs to grow their skills and impart what their knowledge by mentoring C-Techs
There are many resources available to you and your team with regard implementing a successful training program. Begin by meeting with your team to establish detail a framework and expectations. Achieve buy-in and reward success. Meet often with the team to discuss challenges and recognize accomplishments. Start today by scheduling that first meeting with your team. Good luck!