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2017 Motor Age Roundtable: Addressing indifference

Monday, October 2, 2017 - 06:00
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For this year’s roundtable, Motor Age gathered industry professionals to discuss the biggest challenges facing the service repair industry today, such as the widespread apathy towards training, ushering new talent into the industry and the self-inflicted devaluation of repair work — as well as one possible solution: industry-wide licensure.

Who was at the table?
Matt Fanslow is a diagnostic technician at Riverside Automotive in Red Wing, Minn.

Scot Manna is the owner of MB Automotive Inc. and a contract trainer for the State of Illinois Emission Program, WORLDPAC, and Autowares.

Pete Meier is the Director of Training for UBM Automotive Group and Motor Age Technical Editor.

Skip Potter is the former Executive Director of the National Automotive Task Force (NASTF).

Trish Serratore is the Senior Vice President of ASE and President of NATEF/AYES.

Here are some of the highlights of this year’s Motor Age Roundtable, which included various perspectives from tech to association executive (see sidebar “Who was at the Table?”). Responses were edited for length and clarity.

Motor Age: What developments did you see in training opportunities and experiences this year? How would you like to see the industry approach training in the next 1-5 years?

Pete Meier

Pete Meier: We’ve had some excellent training opportunities in Chicago with Automechanika and NACE Automechanika, but we’re not the only organization providing great opportunities. I think there are more people coming out for training—not huge numbers—but overall there’s an uptick in techs that are getting the training they need. There are more opportunities online. The resources are out there. The challenge is spreading the word so that techs know about them.

Trish Serratore: There are two different training opportunities offered by the industry. First, there’s training that’s delivered to the service professionals. I worry that facilities aren’t taking advantage of it as much as they could or should. They rely on one tech to take the training and teach everyone; they’re afraid of fewer productive hours and are worried the guy they train is going to leave. Secondly, there’s training for our educators. We have to make sure that instructors are up to date so that they can provide relevant information to their students

Trish Serratore

We here at NATEF, AYES and ASE feel that there is currently and will be an increased instructor shortage. As current instructors retire or burn out and leave the teaching profession, those programs tend to close. It is very hard to find instructors in our communities today. We’re here to take that on as a challenge to find individuals who are seeking to leave the technician ranks or service repair professional side and come into the educational community. We hold an instructor conference every year, and we have training sessions from our aftermarket, OE, and educational partners to help build that platform of up-to-date instructors who can go back to their classrooms and provide the information that our up and coming student technicians need. I would say that the instructor shortage is a challenge for all of us, and it’s one we’re taking to heart.

Scot Manna: Being a shop owner and attendee of training as well as a training provider, training is not going in the direction it needs to go, and it’s moving at a turtle’s pace.  There’s a lot of apathy. Unfortunately, the same people seem to be showing up to training. I train a lot of people who don’t really need the training—they’re pretty smart guys because they continuously attend training. The other 80 percent of service professionals out there can’t seem to get it together.

Matt Fanslow

Matt Fanslow: Years ago, when electronic ignition, for example, came about we thought “all this new technology is coming; we’re going to watch all these shops die because they’re not keeping up.” But that doesn’t happen because there are a lot of resources out there that keep them going even without the training and tooling. I don’t feel that shops are making the money that they should be to be able to afford to send employees to training. There are many other industries where training is expected and will be on company time, on the company’s dime. That doesn’t happen often in our world.

Pete: There are a lot of shops out there doing the right thing to meet the modern challenges. But there is also a lot of apathy. Maybe people are too comfortable doing what they’ve always done and don’t want to grow any further. One of our strengths is also one of our weaknesses: the independent shop owner. They’re the men and women who had that entrepreneurial spirit and the guts to lay it all on the line and start their own business, to take the risks. That same entrepreneurial spirit is put to the test when it comes to change—it wasn’t their idea, so they don’t want to do it. To create real change in our industry, we need to get that person to adopt to something across the board, to get everyone to agree to do things the same way in order to make our industry better and more attractive. Is it time for mandatory certification for shops and technicians?

Trish: Our industry battles between “we are a profession” and “we are simply a small business, and I’m going to run it however I want.” Take the health care industry for example — whether you are a doctor or a nurse, there is a recognition that you are in the healthcare profession, and there is an expectation that you will come into the field with the proper training and credentials and that you will maintain that training throughout your career. If you practice medicine without a license, you will go to jail. Our industry has not yet committed to that acknowledgement. We don’t always set expectations and demand credentials industry-wide. Until we do that, training is not going to be as effective, and certification is going to be voluntary.

Matt: If the trade was a unified front, together we could assign value to the work we do and training. Looking at the medical field example from the perspective of the consumer, if you think you have strep throat after googling symptoms, you’re still going to the doctor and paying a professional to verify, diagnose and fix it. It’s the same thing at an auto repair shop. Yeah, the customer can go online and research an issue with their vehicle and likely find out what’s causing it. But you’re paying a professional to verify it and make sure nothing else is wrong and to fix it. We have to come together and commit to the fact that there’s value in that. But right now we’re good at running ourselves and our competition into the ground.

Motor Age: Say you’ve been invited to speak to a classroom of teenagers about careers in the industry. What would be the key messages you would have for them?

Skip Potter: There are two things I want to make teenagers aware of that go a long way to promote our industry, one being the career opportunities—just look at the lists on Auto Care Careers.org. It’s a broad industry that can suit many different skills. The other message I’d share are the scholarships that are available. Pete Kornafel, the chairman of Global Automotive Aftermarket Scholarship Committee, has been campaigning and creating awareness of the availability of automotive scholarships on automotivescholarships.org for years. If cost is going to be an issue to start in our industry, these scholarships can help. One application works for multiple scholarships. I would want teenagers to know about those two websites.

Matt: I struggle with this. Part of me feels there’s a lot of good about doing this for a living. Instant gratification is the number one reason—you’re either right or wrong. That rush of solving a problem and helping customers is a great aspect of this career. On the flip side, it’s hard to tell bright students to go into this trade when the salary is not great. You can do something else much easier and in a much nicer environment. You will probably have a retirement if you have an office job—but not in our industry. In this trade, once you start aging, your body starts breaking down, your production decreases and so does your paycheck. We need to fix the compensation package to make it more competitive with trades that require the same or less level of skills and knowledge that our industry requires.

Scot Manna

Scot: We are one of the only industries that penalizes employees when they get older. The smartest and the brightest techs who do the most difficult diagnostic work aren’t getting compensated properly. Tech Y, who’s putting on struts, brake calipers and rotors, is running at 150 percent. Tech Z, who’s finding a spread terminal in a fuse box in the trunk of a car that makes an intermittent no-start once every week, is not being properly compensated for that work. Those are the people we’re looking for, but he’s seeing Tech Y in the next bay who is slamming parts on a car, and the owner is happy as can be because he has a 50 percent margin on the parts. Tech Z is viewed as a necessary evil to take care of the weird problems that come in. It all wraps around money and compensation if we’re trying to get new talent and new techs in.

Pete: If you’re going to fix the conversation strictly on being a technician, then I’m very torn. There are so many skilled labor positions open in other industries that pay better with better benefit packages. However, there are many opportunities and careers within our industry, whether it’s working as a service advisor, shop owner or sales manager or with aftermarket companies and OEMs. If you’re going to focus solely on the career of being a technician, we have some challenges.

Skip: On a similar note, I think if businesses would get involved more with their community colleges and vo-tech institutions and take advantage of programs like AYES and follow Trish’s guidelines on things like mentorship and internships, we would convert many more of the kids graduating from these programs into our industry. There are good programs out there that go unnoticed and unused. We need to make them more successful by banning together and letting the industry know they exist.

Motor Age: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing your organization and/or the industry in the next 12-24 months, and how do you foresee addressing it?

Scot: As a shop owner, I’ve been very fortunate in business. I haven’t had big issues with techs and staffing because I don’t have a very big shop—it’s just four bays. My main technician has been here for 20 years. I’ve never felt that pinch of not being able to find a tech. My biggest issue as a shop owner today is parts. I have a huge problem with the quality of parts that are being installed on cars. The whole parts industry is a mess; the distribution model is a mess. It’s mind-boggling that a consumer can buy oil at Walmart for cheaper than I can as a professional installer. The defect rate is still a problem. In the last 10-15 years, I’ve seen it a lot where if a repeat customer comes in with an issue, most of the time all you have to do is look in the system to see what was installed the last time they visited, and it’s usually an issue with that part. Parts are hurting me as an installer and shop owner. My use of dealer parts has increased year by year. I know the aftermarket means well, but it’s difficult to stand behind it as an installer. There’s so much price pressure that drives the price down. I often can’t buy parts I want to buy because the local vendors don’t have it on their shelves—what’s on their shelves is the cheaper stuff. Parts are a serious problem.

Pete: This goes back to the idea of standardization. A lot of the OEMs are leery about how their products are getting fixed—not only in the aftermarket, but in their dealerships as well. It’s going to impact their brand loyalty. In the collision repair side, if the car isn’t the same after a collision repair as it was when they bought it, they don’t fault the collision repair shop—they fault the brand and model. With a lot of the OEMs now, if a dealer doesn’t have someone in their shop who has been factory trained to do XYZ, that dealer isn’t going to get paid by the manufacturer for the repair. That to me is the edge of what I wouldn’t mind seeing in the future.

Matt: If I set up the adaptive cruise after a car’s been fixed in an auto body shop and the client rear-ends somebody on the highway, they’re going to need to follow that back. If it gets back to me, how do I prove that I knew what I was doing setting up that system? Maybe stuff like that will start driving licensure. But if we flipped the switch and did something like that, we’d probably break the industry. I think ASE naturally should be the bar.

Scot: I spent 14 years as an instructor at a community college, and then all while running my shop, I transitioned into the automotive aftermarket training area. I’ll share a few experiences I’ve had recently. Again, everything rolls back to apathy. I’ve been in business for 35 years, so I know a lot of trainers and instructors from many colleges. I’ve never had an instructor at any of these institutions ask me, “Can I spend a day or week at your shop in the summer to see what’s going on?” It never happened—in 30 years. They are no more willing to give up their time to better themselves in their profession than what we’re asking of our technicians who are getting paid less and are not getting pensions. I can’t figure out why guys are so unmotivated to do their jobs, so to speak. It’s hard to move the boulder in any direction. And it is a boulder.

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