New Technology Impacting Training
Learn about the changes in store for shops as they equip their technicians and staff to service vehicles in the 21st century.
I doubt anyone looks at their business or career with the attitude that failure is acceptable. Everyone wants to survive and most people are interested in success. Ever notice how the successful people you know are often the smartest people you know?
How did they get so smart? By learning, listening and practicing. Acquiring knowledge is essential to understanding system design, theory of operation or cautionary warnings. The application of knowledge leads to experience. With enough experience you avoid making mistakes and perform consistently well.
What is 'training?'
For our industry this should be pretty simple, right? Go to school, learn to repair vehicles, get a job, apply all you have learned, gain experience and be successful. Well, not quite, as automotive technology is continually changing, and the learning never ends.
To make my point, shops are often surveyed about what they need most, and their immediate response is "training." This of course leads to several more questions. On what topic? For which employees? How would you like it delivered? At what price point? All great questions and information you need to make the right choices and best decisions for your business. So let me try to address each of these areas.
I can't tell you what the topic should be but I will tell you we are on the cusp of the greatest technological advances ever in our industry. These technologies will dictate the future of the service and repair industry. Car companies are selling electric cars, and that is probably just one of several alternative power trains we will see in the near future. J.D. Power and Associates estimates that there will be 30 all-electric or plug-in electric vehicle models available in the U.S. market by 2013. To achieve the expected Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standard of 60 mpg in 2025, less than 15 years from now, you should anticipate 40 percent of our vehicle fleet will be powered by an alternative energy source.
Servicing vehicles with alternative energy sources
There is no legacy information on hybrid electric, plug-in electric or fuel cell vehicles, and existing knowledge of the internal combustion engine does not transfer. Think about the future of your business if you ignore these technologies. If you expect to be the long-term solution for your customers' transportation needs, you must start thinking now about how your technicians will be prepared when the first electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles come to your shop.
At General Motors, when an engineer joins the hybrid system team, it takes at least 12 months and sometimes as many as 36 months for them to learn and become comfortable with basic technology and system integration.
Develop a training plan
How much time will your technicians have to prepare for these vehicle platforms? Plenty, if you start thinking about it now. You need to develop a training plan to meet the future needs of your business. An assessment of your staff will identify the appropriate training for each individual. Some personnel will need safety training to avoid endangering themselves or co-workers, and others will need in-depth instruction on theory of operation, specifications, testing, system diagnostics and component replacement.
Obviously, the training paths will be different for everyone on your staff, including the front counter staff. They will need an understanding of these systems to gather information from the vehicle owner and discuss diagnostic and repair procedures intelligently. In my opinion, the people purchasing these vehicles will be some of the most informed customers to ever visit your shop. So be prepared. If they sense on the phone or at the counter your staff is not knowledgeable about the technology in their car, they will go looking for another shop.
We should know soon how the training will be delivered as it is already taking place for the franchised dealership technicians in advance of delivery of the vehicles to the dealerships. I think we can expect a combination of classroom/lab instructor-led training and delivery via the Internet.
Benefits of online training
No doubt we will continue to see more training available via the Internet. It is just a matter of time before it is the primary method to deliver training. There are so many benefits of accessing training through the Internet: it is convenient, affordable, and best of all, it is repeatable. There is the convenience of attending a training session and producing work the same day. Reducing travel and lodging expenses adds to the shop's bottom line. Or those funds can be used for additional training. Technicians can access training modules on an as-needed basis and take a refresher course when they desire. The time has come for automotive technicians to embrace Web-based training.
The cost to acquire knowledge is expensive, and it is difficult to measure the results. I have not found an analysis for the training's return on investment (ROI) for the automotive service and repair industry. The closest I have found is a study by the American Society for Training Development (ASTD). In its study of 575 companies, ASTD found that the top quarter of the companies invested $1,595 on average per employee. Their income per employee was 218 percent higher, and gross profit margins were 24 percent higher than companies in the bottom quarter that invested $128 on average per employee.
In case that is not reason enough to get you to invest in training, consider this: New car dealerships have 50,000 fewer service bays than they did in 2008, and during the last five years aftermarket parts sales grew by 13 percent and the service (do-it-for-me) market accounted for more than 96 percent of aftermarket product growth. Pretty good indicators that independent shops have a great future ahead.
Many shops struggle with training employees for fear of losing them. What if you don't train them and they stay? Someone recently suggested "if you think training is expensive, try being stupid." Maybe a better word for stupid would be unprepared or uninformed. Actually there is more at risk than a trained employee leaving the business. What you really risk with an untrained staff is: cars not delivered when promised, a high labor cost to labor sold ratio, loss of market share as your capabilities are limited, low productivity, an uncomfortable work environment and increased cost of parts and materials.
Training is key in servicing today's vehicles
So what does it take to survive in today's automotive service or collision repair shop? Smart people, really smart, super-smart people. People who are committed to being lifelong learners. Individuals who keep asking questions, seeking answers, and are practitioners of "I gotta-wanna know." Shop owners and managers have a responsibility to provide learning opportunities for the inquisitive minds of technicians. Another responsibility is to repair customers' vehicles right the first time, all the time. An impossible task without a well-trained staff.
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