It has been amazing to watch our industry come together in an effort to solve collective issues, such as the technician shortage and the onslaught of new technologies. No other industry I know of cares about their competitors the way we do. While this is noble and admirable, I fear it puts us in a frame of mind where if we simply support each other and work cohesively, then the technician shortage and technology mountain will soon pass. For some it certainly will; it will pass because they found themselves in a situation that causes them to close the doors forever, while those who are prepared to change their current business model find themselves in an exciting world of growth and longevity. Which group do you identify with?
That’s why we need to talk about creating lifelong mentors in our industry. In the past when new technology became available, we got away with learning on the job or going to a class or two on the topic and then trying new skills out on a customer’s car. The technology was simple enough that we got away with it; we learned on our customers’ time and on the back of our productivity. But what about today? When a new ADAS-equipped vehicle rolls in the door for an alignment, can we afford to practice on a customer car? Can we risk our credibility by not fully understanding these new systems, causing return visits and eroded confidence with both our customers and our team? Of course we can’t.
We live in a time where technology is so advanced that we can’t afford to learn on the job when a car floats through door. Instead we must create a structured learning environment in our businesses that enables the growth of each position. This must be done in a way that does not create a burden on your production and your customers' time, but in a way that provides a clear and efficient path of learning from the time someone joins your organization to the time they move on.
Mentorship is a relationship where a more experienced or knowledgeable person helps guide a less experienced or knowledgeable person. The stigma of mentors is that they should be your most experienced, oldest or most productive tech. This is false. The ideal mentor is someone who first wants to pay it forward. This is usually someone currently in the role that the apprentice or mentee is working towards. So, look at your entire staff as a potential mentor. As a personal example, I mentored my first apprentice when I was 24 years old. I was able to benefit from the experience more than I ever imagined because the primary by-product of mentoring is the knowledge gained in preparation to properly serve the mentee. The responsibility of guiding another person to perfect a craft you respect is a heavy burden, lightened only by being prepared to share the truth. This isn’t always demonstrated by knowing everything about a certain system or service technique, but is more often seen by your demonstration of how you learn and how you solve problems. It also involves honesty without sugar coating, and the ability to encourage and give positive yet constructive feedback to the mentee. It means becoming an advocate for the mentee by investing in their career.
Let’s look at how the business side of a mentorship program might look. First, keep it simple. If the mentor needs a degree in accounting to figure out their financial benefit, then it won’t work. Likewise, if the mentee doesn’t see light (money) at the end of the tunnel, they won’t last. The first step is to establish that everyone in the company will always be in a position of apprenticeship where they are working with a mentor, and everyone in the company will always be a mentor where they are sponsoring the growth of another. It is a cycle of learning that creates the greatest benefit for all. This means you need to create a significant culture shift in your organization, so it makes sense to work your way toward the above model by initiating a mentorship program for new team members.