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Offering Financial Incentives for Education

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Training can be a constant game of catch-up for collision repair technicians. Vehicle design updates drive development of new training courses every year, and the certification requirements of training institutions change. I-CAR, for example, rolled out its Professional Development Program in 2010, which required all technicians to retrain in order to be recertified under new program requirements. 

Staying up-to-date with training is essential, but it can be a challenge for some technicians who view it as time consuming and unnecessary. Some shop operators have found their staff needs a motivation boost to realize that additional training can lead to better performance and greater success—both individually and for the company.

Offering incentives for training is one way to ensure your staff stays as educated as possible. Two shops share how a training incentive program works in their businesses, and how it can in yours, too.

John Shoemaker, director of Bowditch Collision Centers, based in Newport News, Va.

Shoemaker says a sense of “knowing everything” is common among repair technicians. Even though his shop pays for all costs associated with training courses, some of his technicians still need an extra push to take part in certain courses. Shoemaker says offering an incentive accomplishes that.

• How the Program Works: Shoemaker developed an incentive program based on I-CAR’s new Professional Development Program. The program is similar to one he used in a previous shop that he owned. He attaches three different pay scales to the program’s three ProLevels. For each ProLevel achieved, technicians qualify for a higher pay bracket. Platinum level technicians within each ProLevel receive pay toward the higher end of each pay bracket.

For example: Technicians that have achieved I-CAR ProLevel 1 status qualify for $10–$12 per hour. Technicians just starting on ProLevel 1 training earn $10 per hour, while Platinum ProLevel 1 technicians (those who have completed the level) earn $12 per hour.

The range for a ProLevel 2 technician is $13–$15 per hour. Technicians starting on ProLevel 2 training earn $13 an hour, while Platinum ProLevel 2 technicians earn $15 per hour. A similar scale is used for ProLevel 3.

Shoemaker also added a bonus system for technicians based on their ProLevel and proficiency. The goal is to reward technicians for more efficient work habits gained from training. Here’s how that works:

If technicians are at ProLevel 1 and performing at 150 percent efficiency, Shoemaker adds 10 percent of their hourly rate onto their pay. For example, a technician making $13 per hour qualifies for an incentive-based hourly rate of $14.30 per hour if they perform at 150 percent efficiency.

ProLevel 2 technicians performing at 150 percent efficiency qualify for 20 percent of their hourly rate added to their pay, and ProLevel 3 technicians working at 150 percent efficiency qualify for 30 percent.

• Business Benefit: Shoemaker says shops that simply make training a condition of employment tend to see a lot of turnover. Technicians commonly work as long as they can until they’re forced to have more training, then they quit and go to another shop that doesn’t require it.

But offering rewards for career advancement allows technicians to control their own financial destiny, and the investment illustrates a shop’s commitment to their success. That develops employee loyalty, Shoemaker says, which reduces turnover.

“They see a chain of progression, they see themselves grow, and they see a sustainable career path at your shop,” he says.

Over time, the incentives lead to improved motivation to train. Technicians become eager to learn, and begin seeking out new training requirements on their own.

• Implementation Tip: Shoemaker says technicians shouldn’t automatically qualify for pay increases just by attending the courses. You’re making an investment in them, so it’s only fair that technicians prove their additional value back in the shop.

Watch how technicians apply new knowledge throughout their workday. Assess improvement and proficiency levels before officially offering the higher pay.

Robert Gagliano, chief operations officer at Collex Collision Experts, based in Clinton Township, Mich.

Years ago, Gagliano noticed a training discrepancy among his technicians. Some were voluntarily signing up for as many training opportunities as possible, while others didn’t express any interest. He had I-CAR Gold technicians working alongside others who didn’t think they needed any education. Meanwhile, technicians in both categories earned the same pay.

“If they invest their time in training, then they get the reward.”
—Robert Gagliano, COO, Collex Collision Experts

“One guy was constantly investing in himself and the other wasn’t. That just wasn’t fair,” Gagliano says. “So we decided that people should be rewarded and incentivized for training. If they attend training, they deserve to earn more for those efforts and knowledge levels.”

• How the Program Works: Collex pays technicians on a flat-rate system, with pay attached to the particular operation each tech performs in the shop. The company developed a training incentive program that increases their flat-rate pay based on achieving I-CAR Gold status and obtaining an ASE certification. The incentive encompasses technicians, estimators, parts personnel and managers.

For example, body technicians earn a base flat rate of $15 per hour. If they earn their I-CAR Gold certification, technicians qualify to earn another 25 cents per labor hour. If they earn their ASE certification, technicians qualify for an additional 5 cents per labor hour.

The training is not a one-time deal, however. Technicians must maintain the certifications in order to maintain those pay increases. They lose the pay if they neglect to renew the certifications when necessary.

“People don’t like to lose money,” Gagliano says, “so they rarely let those certifications lapse.”

• Business Benefit: Gagliano says the training incentive program has caused technicians to find value in training. In the beginning, he says technicians were motivated by the financial reward. But once they started going, they began to see a bigger benefit.

“The incentive has gotten people to value training and seek it out on their own. It’s become an issue of pride,” Gagliano says, noting that Collex was the first multiple-shop operation in the country to have every facility I-CAR Gold certified through I-CAR’s Professional Development Program. “The incentive certainly helps provide technicians with extra motivation to earn more knowledge, attend the classes, and retain those certifications long-term.”

The positive mindset developed toward training has created a more positive culture throughout the shop, too, he says. They’ve become more conscientious about the cars they’re working on, they’re more careful about looking up data and information, and they’re more thorough analyzing repairs before starting to work. Ultimately, repairs are better with a well-trained staff.

“Financial reward for investing their own time into their future and professional careers helps build morale and teamwork within the shop,” Gagliano says. “Technicians who invest the time to improve themselves deserve additional incentive. You just can’t have people working in your shop who have no desire to refresh their training. You need people who prove a willingness to stay current on new technologies and procedures.”

• Implementation Tip: Gagliano says training incentive programs cannot be implemented overnight; they have to be phased in over a longer period of time. You can’t instantly move employees backward with pay and withhold their usual earnings until they obtain training. That will cause chaos throughout the shop, he says.

Instead, Gagliano suggests phasing the program in over a one-year period. Let your staff know about the program, how it will work and why you’re doing it. Then give them time to achieve the new requirements.

“If they invest their time in training, then they get the reward,” Gagliano says. “But if they decide not to attend the classes, they know exactly why their peers are making more money.” 

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