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Service King Turns Mentorship on its Ear

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January isn’t just the start of a new year, but also a time for businesses to consider implementing new programs like apprenticeship initiatives. 

Mentoring often helps increase workplace productivity, as well as recruit high-performing entry-level interns to be employees, according to twomentor, a training and development company focused on talent strategies in the workplace. 

Recently, the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) took steps to encourage the automotive industry to focus on mentor relationships. Service King led the pack at the first Technician Mentor/Mentee competition hosted by the CREF, in late September.

The first-place team included Bradford Amison, mentee technician and Frank Allen, mentor, from Service King in Leander, Texas. The third place team also represented Service King, with Ian Chambers, mentee technician, and Ralph Gonzales from Dallas.

The teams at the CREF competition were put into a real-world setting, in an effort to get them used to managing a technician’s typical workload. 

The aforementioned victory came shortly after Service King enhanced its apprentice development program, adding additional focus on digital training, while refining the approach to hands-on, on-the-job training aided by mentors.

“We were tasked by executive leadership to take a look at the program’s overall effectiveness, ideally in this environment and in collision repair,” says Rachel Blackman, senior director, learning and development at Service King Collision. “Ideally, in this environment and in collision repair, the best experiences are hands on.”

Below, Blackman in collaboration with Roy Villarreal, director, technician and apprentice development, shares more on the changes to the program and what they mean to the success of young collision repair technicians.

What was the change in the program that had the largest impact?

One of the primary changes was ensuring, through selection criteria, that we had the best possible supervisor and mentee and apprentice combo chosen.  Villarreal looks for mentors with a proven track record of not only repair quality and personal performance, but also developing helpers and leading a technician team.

We looked for mentors that had previously been helping others. Maybe that meant they were an instructor at a school, maybe they did some type of training. We wanted to make sure they were productive.

Where do you typically find mentee candidates?

We primarily recruit apprentices from technical schools. Most of the mentees either apply from a recruiting event, on the website, or through employee referrals.  We looked for candidates with  previous body shop experience, knowledge of repair basics, and a commitment to a career in collision repair. 

Could the candidate disassemble a car? Can the candidate reassemble a car? Can the candidate read an estimate or do small body repairs? We also looked closely at the candidate’s attendance. If they had poor attendance, it’s an indicator that they’re not responsible to show up to work on time. Even being 5 to 10 minutes late means that a car which should have been in paint in the morning is now in paint in the afternoon. That’s a whole day lost.

What is your current enrollment?

Right now, we have 20 students enrolled in the program as mentees, along with 20 mentors. That number is growing monthly. The program lasts one year, but that can be extended or shortened depending on incoming experience and development pace.

Initially, the program had one instructor to four students. Now, with a one to one or one:two ratio, learning is more “on-the-job” working side by side with the instructor, versus  a more traditional classroom and instructional approach. 

What exactly does the curriculum entail?

We’re focused on a blended-learning approach. We work with the managers of the shops, but we can’t control the type or amount of work coming into the body shop at any given time.

Repetition is key-fundamentals paired with hands-on learning at a shop pace, and repeat. We offer videos and e-learning opportunities for work like dent or plastic repairs. That type of work is something the mentee might see a lot in the shop so with the video, they're able to learn the fundamentals online and work on it in person when they see it in the shop.

Originally we asked our supervisors to present a theory piece that would have been an online piece in more of a classroom setting. 

What are the primary goals of the program?

We’d like to expand on it slightly and strengthen the program with other technical schools and programs. For instance, we can work with CREF, and other schools.

Our goal is to develop the next generation of technicians, prepared for the dynamic and technical environment of today’s body shop. As for the mentors, we can all stand to receive more training. We’d like to see career paths open up not only for apprentices entering the workforce but for the instructors as they progress in their careers.

On a whole, the industry is full of opportunity and efforts such as the apprentice development program are focused not only in developing talent, but on attracting talent.

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