Callister's business runs a successful apprenticeship program that already has placed two new employees. A D&S apprenticeship covers roughly 20 weeks and provides students with in-depth, hands-on instructions on each stage of its lean operations.
During the first four weeks, students learn damage analysis and perform tear downs. The next four weeks are dedicated to light structure repair with students learning how to use filler and install parts while meeting all the recommended gaps. Students then spend a month concentrating on heavy structures. They work on a frame rack, practice MIG and resistance welding and study vehicle structures.
The final six weeks are dedicated to paint work. Students identify a proper repair, learn the value of a clean booth, spray primers and apply base coats and clear finishes. D&S also instructs them on applying waterborne finishes.
Callister says the program provides a low-cost gateway for young people wanting a good-paying career. "By the time they're 30 they could be making $70,000 a year," he says. "And they're not saddled with thousands of dollars of student loan debt [from a post secondary institution]."
The success of apprenticeship programs demonstrates how shops can develop employees with basic or no automotive background. Indeed, some Top Shops have built their businesses around processes so they can develop their own employees.
Classic Accident Repair Center in Mentor, Ohio invites workers from all backgrounds to apply. Much of their training is conducted in-house, allowing them to continuously develop their own employees. Classic also pays for any external training through I-CAR, vendors and OEMS and stocks their own tools.
G&C Auto Body in Santa Rosa, Calif. does much the same. They train their own estimators, techs and painters and pay for tools. "That's a big savings of $30,000 in schooling and tools for anyone looking to start work in this industry," says Chief Operations Officer Shawn Crozat.
Both shops have had steady success with these setups. Classic has few problems bringing in new workers. Crozat says some of his best employees arrive with no previous automotive background.
"One of our best writers was working in a sporting goods store two years ago," he says. "Today he's making $90,000 a year."
Crozat also touts his system for training technicians and other workers better than they could anywhere else. This hiring/training process is a core part of G&C's long-term survival strategy. "We're always looking for a competitive advantage," says Crozat. "Where there isn't one, we'll create it for ourselves."
That advantage lies in building an available labor pool instead of dipping into the small, possibly shrinking, one that most of the industry competes over. Taking the latter route can prove dangerously costly, says Crozat. Needy shops can find themselves in expensive bidding wars to pry techs away from their current employer. They risk raising labor costs beyond what insurers are willing to cover, a risky proposition for shops and employees alike.
"We don't want to over-or underpay anyone," Crozat says. "We always want to pay employees what they're worth and take care of the business."