Training, Education Can Give Your Shop the Professional EdgePosted 3/11/2008
By Rachael J. Mercer
Trainers, members and education advocates weigh in on how training and education can distinguish good shops and great ones.
When discussing training and education, many questions arise. What type of training should take place? How do I know the training I'm paying for is of good quality? How much training should my employees complete in a year? Why is education important? How do I afford the cost of training? These are all valid questions that experts in the field can answer.
Importance of Education
George Witt, trainer and chairman of the Automotive Management Institute's (AMI's) board of trustees, emphasizes the importance of management training. "There are a number of repair shops that keep up with training for their technicians but not with management training," says Witt. He explains that while many entrepreneurial technicians will strike out on their own to begin a business, they don't know how to run a business, how to charge for their work, what to charge for their work, and so on. "Many times these businesses falter or fail simply because of a lack of management training," says Witt.
Another benefit to training and education is the credentials it provides.
"Training and certification for your employees supplies meaningful professional credentials," says Tony Molla, ASE vice president of communications. "ASE certification verifies the technicians' technical knowledge and provides a yardstick to know your employees are keeping up."
AMI provides and promotes practical business management education tailored to the members of the automotive service and collision repair industry. AMI-approved courses deliver quality management education free of commercials and sales presentations to more than 10,000 enrollments per year. Courses that are approved by AMI are available at many industry events, including ASA's Annual Convention, Automotive Service and Repair Week (ASRW), which includes both CARS and NACE, and ASA affiliate events.
Avoiding these sales pitches and poor-quality presentations will keep your technicians and employees enthusiastic about taking classes that will enrich their workplace skills. And, as an employer you will probably be more likely to spend money and give up your employee for the day when you know that the course they're taking will benefit them, and ultimately, benefit your business.
In addition to making sure you're not getting a sales pitch in the course your technicians are taking, there are other things to consider, says Bill Haas, ASA's vice president of education and training.
Diane Rodenhouse, owner of Rodenhouse Body Shop in Grand Rapids, Mich., serves on the board of the Kent Career Technical Center in her community. She urges "specific training" for technicians. "Many training opportunities aren't vehicle-specific enough," she says. "Employers should decide where their priorities for spending training dollars are, and then focus their training dollars there."
"There are a variety of education sources outside the automotive industry," says Michael Anderson, AAM, owner of Wagonwork Collision Center and Wagonwork Consulting in Alexandria, Va. "For example, the Ritz-Carlton and the Ken Blanchard Group offer customer service courses. While we do need industry-related training, customer service is the same no matter what business you're in," he says.
While there are many courses offered out there through various groups and from hundreds of instructors, often instructors are discouraged because of a lack of attendance.
Cost of Education
While most experts would urge shop owners to seize every opportunity to take new education courses, the expense of education often presents a challenge. "Many times our training requires travel to a convention or other destination," says Wynter. "We bring back new knowledge and ideas and share that with our staff. In other words, this serves to train the trainer."
Defraying the cost of education through this "train the trainer" mentality is one creative method. Local training and networking is another way to decrease the expense of education. "We encourage any local training and make arrangements to accommodate time off and travel expenses," says Wynter. "Training out of our area is more difficult due to expense and time off. The rapid advances in Internet training is changing the availability of courses and will make so many more available."
Internet training is becoming more popular and more available. AMI has recently launched its AMI E-Link Education and Training Guide. This comprehensive online directory enables automotive service and collision repair professionals to locate industry training providers that offer management education and technical training. "The AMI E-Link search engine allows visitors to easily locate training companies unique to the industry without the clutter of a general Internet search," says Toni Slaton, AMI executive director. For more information on the AMI E-Link, please visit the AMI Web site at www.AMIonline.org or you can access it from the ASA home page, www.ASAshop.org.
"Unfortunately," says Anderson, "Most shops spend only 1 percent or 2 percent of their total sales on training. We must realize that our people are our best resources and we must invest in them."
While ASA's 2007 "How's Your Business?" Report didn't have statistics on what percentage of a shop's total sales is spent on training, the survey did find that ASA member shops do make an investment in training. Among mechanical shops, the survey found that entry-level technicians receive an average of 25 hours of training annually at a cost of $880; experienced technicians receive an average of 29 hours, costing an average of $1,184; and management acquires an average of 33 hours of advanced learning a year, costing an average of $1,704. Among collision shops, entry-level technicians (painter and frame) received 15 hours of training in the past 12 months, with an average price tag of $595. Experienced technicians attended 25 hours of training at an average cost of $813 and managers received 17 hours of training at an average cost of $833.
"With these new cars and new technology, new tools and new equipment are needed to repair them," he says. "Somebody has to know how to use these tools and equipment. Somebody has to know how to make these repairs."
He pointed out that a complete lack of knowledge in technology-driven new car repairs is a challenge now. In shops without proper education, managers and technicians tend to get in the mindset of thinking it's OK to say, "We don't do that." And they send their business on to a new car dealer whose employees do have the capability and education to make those repairs.
Witt discussed a time that a technological advancement presented a frustrating challenge for him and his employees. "We were fully trained to work on a Prius for a year before we saw the first one in our shop," he says. Even with the training, says Witt, "It was like getting on a horse that knows its rider, and it knew we weren't the rider." Challenges include the lack of a key, using a key fob with a signal, and vehicles that turn themselves off while sitting still. "How do you do a coolant flush on a vehicle that shuts off when it's sitting still?" asks Witt. "Only by being educated on what to do!"
Rodenhouse echoes Witt's last statement. "Technicians must bump up their skills by being educated," she says. "They must be computer literate. My painter needs to be a chemist, and my estimator needs two years of college to write a decent e-mail." She stresses that when her employees are communicating with insurers and adjusters, they're working with college graduates who have superb communication skills.
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