Shop Life

5 Keys for Communicating with Young Technicians

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Most effective teams have a selfless leader, one who hates to see their cohorts struggle.

At Mid-Town Body Repair in Greensboro, N.C., Al Akeroyd often serves as the quarterback that rallies the troops. If a rookie is struggling to grasp a certain procedure, Akeroyd, a senior technician, has no problems offering a pep talk.

“I don’t want to see anybody fail at anything,” Akeroyd explains. “If they’re going to do something, I want to see that they’re doing it the correct way. I can take 15 minutes out of my day to help somebody; it doesn’t bother me. I’m that type of person―I’ll help anybody.

“Because, sometimes I’ve asked somebody for help, too.”

Akeroyd has worked in collision repair since the early 1970s―or, “the caveman days,” as he light-heartedly refers to them as. But, despite the fact he’s inching toward retirement, the senior bodyman has a knack for relating to entry-level employees.

“I just try to be friendly and show them things in the shop,” Akeroyd says. Because “getting along is a big thing” in the workplace.

Akeroyd, who is well-respected at Mid-Town due to the mentorship he provides, explains the best methods for communicating with today’s young technicians.

Welcome new hires.

Akeroyd takes it upon himself to make new coworkers feel right at home, from Day 1. He wants his new colleagues to feel like a valued member of a team.

“I go up to them and introduce myself, and show them things in the shop,” Akeroyd says, and add that, “‘If you need a hand, I’ll help you.’

“If [a new hire] comes up to me and asks to use a screwdriver, I say, ‘Yeah, sure, here it is.’ I don’t lock my toolbox; I figure, if you work around people, you ought to trust them.”

Learn coworkers’ interests.

Workdays can get awfully monotonous if conversations never stray beyond repair procedures or work in progress. That’s why Akeroyd makes it a point to learn about coworkers’ personal interests, by asking about their favorite current TV shows, for example.

Akeroyd says he especially appreciates watching young employees start to accumulate tools and forge a career in the collision repair industry.

At Mid-Town, he says, “we all get along, just being friendly, talking about things other that body work. We find out about how people are outside of work.”

Offer hands-on teaching.

Akeroyd is the type of employee who enthusiastically approaches six-hour training sessions on Saturdays. So, it should come as no surprise that he eagerly embraces most opportunities to model proper repair procedures to young coworkers.

Training is valuable in its own right, Akeroyd says, but feels hands-on teaching is typically most effective in a shop environment.

“When you actually do hands-on,” he says, “I think it’s a lot better than just sitting there, listening to somebody tell you how to do something.”

Share tricks of the trade.

Nothing lets new hires know that you’re on their side quite like teaching them some of the lessons that veteran employees have learned the hard way.

“If [new employees] have a car in the shop, and they’ve got damage to a fender or a quarter panel,” Akeroyd says, “I’ll try to teach them the easiest way. And I’ll explain to the younger guys that, ‘This is a better way to do it.

“If they’ve got questions, ‘Well, here’s where you want to start pulling [a dent] first.’”  

Speak one on one.

In Akeroyd’s opinion, there aren’t drastic differences between his generation and today’s twenty-somethings. He has noticed, however, that members of Generation Z seem to prefer one-on-one conversations to group meetings.

“The young guys I work with now all do good work, and they’re conscientious and care,” Akeroyd says. “I either pull them aside and talk at lunchtime,or, if I see them doing something improper, I’ll say, ‘Hey, I can help you; don’t use that method there because there are much easier ways to do it, and I can show you an easier way.’

“But I’m not stern, and I wouldn’t get angry. I’m always friendly.”

Making an effort to relate to young employees, Akeroyd says, benefits both him and the entire shop.

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