Going Mobile with Apprenticeships
Countless shop owners have experienced the trials and tribulations of training new technicians, only to watch them leave when local competition outbids on salary, benefits or hours. Many shop owners have also had difficulty training new hires, experienced or not, because some of their existing skilled technicians don’t have the inclination to spend their wage-earning hours teaching the trade to someone who might not stick around anyway.
These factors, along with increasingly tighter profit margins, are threatening to spell trouble for the collision repair industry, where mentorship programs are few and where far too many are fraught with complications that leave a bad taste in the mouths of the shop owners and trainers who try them.
Reports from the U.S. Department of Labor underscore the potential effects of this trend, telling of an anemic collision-industry workforce that saw more than 22,000 technicians leave the business between 1999 and 2005 without being replaced.
So, for the shop owners out there who are seeking new workers or having trouble integrating a training regimen without hampering business in the process, the question posed by one industry consultant is: How long do you plan to be in business? Because if you’re in it for the long haul, maybe it’s time to take workforce development into your own hands.
TRAINING AT WORK
Kent Eikenberry, the owner of Passwaters Collision Specialists in Indianapolis, heard about one mentorship program at a time when the lack of qualified technicians and an effective means to develop and keep them were frequent topics of conversation among managers at his store. So he invited the program’s presenter, Jeffrey Koykar, out to his shop to discuss that program’s method of finding and training workers without interrupting business flow.
Eikenberry was impressed by what he saw: a sound in-shop concept using basic techniques that could turn any willing student—tech-school trained or not—into a quality mentoring candidate who can add value to the production floor without taking anything away.
Within a few days, for example, one trainee at Passwaters Collision Specialists was able to contribute to the productivity of his in-house trainer while continuing to learn new things; and, within a few weeks, the trainee was ready for steady teamwork with less supervision and able to produce more and better results. It probably helped that shop veteran Ron Spencer, with whom the trainee had been paired, was also a production manager and could appreciate the difficulties of finding good help, as well as letting go experienced workers who don’t buy into the shop’s standard operating procedures.
Soon, other techs took notice of the increased production coming from the corner where the pair continued to conduct on-the-job training.
“Some of the techs who initially thought this (new) person would be a weight around their necks were a little envious that (Spencer) had this person,” Eikenberry said.
READY TO LEARN
Now purveyor of his own situational training program, Koykar, 47, is a former “top performing” autobody technician with three decades of experience working in shops across the country. He credits the burgeoning success of his program, The Academy Autobody Collision Training A.C.T., to the fact that it was created by a technician for technicians. Not to mention that it has produced excellent results on the production floors of the shops that have tried it, living up to its promise of real training that doesn’t interrupt workflow.
The Academy Autobody Collision Training A.C.T. also includes versatility that lets shop owners and trainers customize the program to suit their individual needs and SOPs. This individualization begins with The Academy’s unique recruiting methods and criteria.
Qualified students are found by advertising a profitable career opportunity in newspapers, magazines, cable TV and on the Internet and radio. The ads don’t call for tech students, but rather those with a willingness to learn, an aptitude for working with their hands, a positive attitude and good work ethic. “We can teach the rest,” Koykar says.
Koykar will then round up a handful of candidates and do an in-shop pre-test, which will include simple demonstrations that the student is asked to replicate, including assembly, cutting or grinding and surface repair. “A basic ability to follow directions and duplicate tasks,” Koykar explains. “An ability to watch and learn—this reveals a lot as far as skills and determination.”
The student also is required to pay the shop for his or her training, giving further assurance that he or she has a true, vested interest in a future career.
Once a good candidate is found, they begin training immediately, and Koykar will spend three to five days working with the technician-student pair, bringing hands-on training effectively and easily into the shop’s existing workflow.
He acknowledges that this is a “very unusual way of tech screening, but also the most realistic” in that it’s “a blend of real world factors.”
The program includes not only demonstration and repetition, but also written materials for extra direction, allowing students to work without constant supervision. “The text initiates the starting points for progressive training in a way that allows you to continue on with your daily routine and repair duties,” Koykar states.
Among other topics, the curriculum includes a procedural text for repair-plan strategies and thought processing, surface repair, roof replacement, damage analysis, metal straightening, basic pulling techniques, disassembly, reassembly and welding.
MONEY AND MORE
With the right student and the right technician, The Academy Autobody Collision Training A.C.T. program can also boost productivity in shop areas where it’s on the decline. The process might, for example, be a welcome boost for a former “top” tech who’s getting on in years and might not move as fast as he or she once did. Koykar knows about this from experience. “You start to slow down a bit, reaching maximum production and you hit a ceiling,” he says. “This program can extend the longevity of an older tech’s career, and now he’s earning more than he would by working alone.”
Through the use of his training and mentorship program, Koykar claims that a veteran technician’s personal productivity, even while teaching skills to an industry newcomer, can get a boost of 25 to 40 percent.
And, for some, the rewards of training a new autobody technician go beyond the monetary, Koykar adds. “Now, he’s imparting his knowledge and helping teach somebody else. Some technicians actually like to train; they might have kids of their own or have been a coach for youth sports.”
Koykar stresses that despite the fact that a majority of career-seekers are young folks, there is no age limit that prevents a willing and hardworking participant from becoming a top tech in a whole new trade. He also maintains that his straightforward program can be inserted easily into the production floor of any body shop, any time: “It’s a skill,” he says. “But it’s not rocket science.”