Detailed Development

Industry veteran outlines a step-by-step process to develop the skills of young collision repair techs.

One of the most pressing concerns for body shop, collision center and service managers is replacing the retiring technicians with people capable of repairing today’s modern vehicles.

While there is no silver bullet to drive candidates to your repair center, there are a lot of resources to help you develop technicians once you hire them. This article will offer a process-based approach to developing a technician’s skills.

The Challenge

We at Axalta Coating Systems, formerly DuPont Performance Coatings, and Collision Advice have had numerous customers say that they could repair more vehicles. But they just can’t find technicians to replace those who are leaving the trade or are retiring.

Technicians in the future will need to know how to read OE repair procedures, understand how to use pre- and post-repair vehicle scan tools to diagnose the vehicles’ challenges. They also will need to understand materials (aluminum, boron, magnesium and others) used in the vehicles’ construction and choose the proper tools, as well as learn entirely new vehicle systems with new electronic and hybrid vehicles coming out daily.

Figure 1

We worked with a team of 50 master technicians and apprentices to develop a list of skills (Figure 1) to develop and refine to move from the technical education phase, to the body apprentice phase, to the frame and mechanical apprentice phase, to journeyman and finally master journeyman, or artisan, phase.

Developing the Skills

The next step is to walk the candidate through how to develop each skill per level (Figure 2) to master its consistent use when performing repairs:

  1. The technicians defined the skill.
  2. They listed relevant and tested training to develop an understanding of the skills.
  3. They defined the relevant experience on the vehicle needed to test their knowledge of the skill.
  4. Finally, they defined an assessment to verify the technician can perform the task within the time estimated within the crash guide/P-page estimating system.

Figure 2

What’s In It For Me?

The key to get the staff to go along will be to explain the long-term goals of the mentorship process. Examples can be found in the electrician, HVAC, plumbing and other trades. Not only do we need to develop them, we need to reinforce the value of the reward for apprentices and mentors for moving through the process to learn these skills. These technicians can be rewarded with free tools, longevity bonuses, per-skill mastery payouts, wage increases or other rewards.

The Next Steps

Turns out that building the skills list was the easy part, but we have a lot more work to do:
Step 1: Validate the skills, training and assessment (75 percent completed).
Step 2: Train managers and in-shop mentors to help apprentices. Mentorship skills need to be trained and reinforced with our managers. (We’re working on mentor and apprentice training courses.)
Step 3: Repairers must hire young people and patiently take them through the process.
Step 4: We should reward and challenge the millennial candidates so that they stay the course and become a master journeyman.

Will This work?

As it turns out, most managers had once been technicians who learned on the job, so they’re unfamiliar with the patience it takes to understand a skill, refer training, practice with them and finally assess them. Developing the technicians of tomorrow will take patience and effort, but if you think about what you’re accomplishing for the technician’s life and the good of the company, it’s all worth it.

Old-school leadership will chase away the few young people in the trade. Take the time to learn what a “transformational leader” is and refine the listening, communicating and praise systems today’s candidates desire. You want to be the “employer of choice.” And if you are, you will have the staff to repair all of the vehicles your shop can repair. Good luck!

If you would like access to the skills checklists in their current form, contact me at steven.r.trapp@axaltacs.com or call (763) 218-6370.

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