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Managing Technician Proficiency

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Collision repair is all about cycle time. The main concern among customers and insurers is speed of repair, so every shop needs technicians who have work habits that move work through quickly.

Efficiency, a key performance indicator (KPI) tracked by most shop operators, reveals how fast technicians are able to complete individual repairs. It’s a critical number to track, but not the only one when it comes to cycle time.

Tracking efficiency by itself produces an “ambiguous number” because it doesn’t paint the entire picture, says Greg McVicker, collision center manager for Budd Baer Collision Center in Washington, Pa. Proficiency is just as important.

That KPI measures the amount of time technicians spend actually working on vehicles throughout the day. It reveals whether technicians are producing adequate touch time per day, or if time is being wasted due to excess work stoppage, downtime or other nonproductive activities when billable work isn’t being produced.

Just because you have efficient technicians doesn’t mean you have proficient ones, McVicker says. Shops won’t achieve ideal workflow until they have a perfect mix of both.

Calculating Proficiency

Shop operators can automatically calculate technician proficiency through their management system. But if you don’t have one, here’s how:

Importance of Productivity

You could have a technician blowing everyone out of the water in terms of efficiency, but not be where you need them in terms of proficiency, McVicker says.

For example, you might have technicians who produce eight hours of billable work in four hours of time, which is a whopping 200 percent efficiency. But if they only produce eight billable hours the entire workday, they are only 100 percent proficient. In that situation, the technician only produced billable work for four hours, and had four hours worth of waste—nonproductive, nonbillable work—during the day.

“That obviously impacts your cycle time and rental absorption, and ultimately, the bottom line of your business,” McVicker says.

Improving proficiency is all about removing waste from the business, whether that’s downtime, equipment issues or process problems, McVicker says. The entire goal is to produce billable hours as often as possible; technicians should always be working on something that generates revenue to improve touch time and cycle time performance.

Manage By the Numbers

In order to maintain Budd Baer’s desired four-hour touch time on jobs every day, McVicker needs his technicians to produce an average of 14 billable hours daily. That’s a proficiency rating of about 170 percent for an eight-hour workday, which most experts say is a solid benchmark to aim for. And it’s doable for most shops, he says, even with a mix of technicians with various skill levels. McVicker has a few entry-level technicians who produce eight hours a day, but a few experienced technicians who produce up to 20 hours a day to carry the average.

McVicker routinely tracks technician performance both on an individual level and as an aggregate throughout the shop. Steven Feltovich, manager of business consulting services for Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, says that’s a good practice for all shops to follow because that’s how you drill down to identify issues when performance isn’t up to par. If low proficiency is a trend throughout your shop, Feltovich says the problem is likely due to your operations, or your individual staff members. And there are certain elements of both to consider.

Operational Elements:

Estimates. Accurate estimates are huge factors in proficiency because that’s what drives billed labor hours, Feltovich says. Incomplete estimates with missing line items could mean that technicians are taking time to produce work that isn’t being billed  on repair orders.

Shop operators should audit their estimates to ensure they’re being written accurately and fairly with inclusion of all additional labor items, Feltovich says. The more hours included on the estimate, the higher proficiency becomes.

Equipment. Inadequate equipment in the shop often causes work stoppage for technicians, Feltovich says. Assess whether each piece of equipment is working correctly, needs to be fixed or upgraded, or if technicians need additional training for proper use. In addition, assess whether technicians have easy and immediate access to every tool needed to do their job.

Operational processes. Assess your SOPs for workflow through the facility, Feltovich says. Every shop should have a process-centered environment that allows technicians to efficiently produce more labor hours during the day.

For example, McVicker’s reassembly technicians are stationed in a separate building on the property. After noticing rather low proficiency results, he spent time observing their work processes. That’s when McVicker realized that the technicians had to walk across the street to the parts department in the main building to get clips and other miscellaneous items for reassembly processes. The 10-minute activity happened six times per day, adding up to one hour of nonproductive time.

That prompted McVicker to create a more accessible satellite inventory of reassembly parts to eliminate the walk-between, which had substantial impact on proficiency performance.

Staff Elements:

Skills and competencies. Assess the technician’s execution of repair processes and the quality they produce. Identify whether there’s a particular task where they lack efficiency or if certain quality issues cause routine rework. More training, coaching and development might be necessary.

Technician morale. The morale of your technicians dramatically impacts shop proficiency, Feltovich says. Happy employees tend to be more productive compared to ones with low job satisfaction.

Policy enforcement. Observe each technician’s personal habits and actions throughout the day, Feltovich says. Ignoring your shop’s human resources policies could cause low proficiency.

Assess things like the number of work days the technician tends to miss each month, length of lunch breaks, frequency of breaks, time between jobs, time talking to co-workers, or distractions such as text messaging or using Facebook on their cell phone.

McVicker, for example, spent time observing his paint department one morning. He watched four team members stand and talk for 10 minutes before carrying on with their day—an automatic productivity loss of 40 minutes.

“Think about how astronomically those little conversations can add up in lost production time,” McVicker says.

“If technicians are producing low billable hours, you need to observe what they’re spending they’re time on,” Feltovich adds.

Model Your Stars

Most shops have at least one technician with highly productive work methodologies, Feltovich says. They have the right processes, they make every move count, and they consistently deliver high quality work.

Profile that technician’s habits and model your shop’s best practices after that, Feltovich says. Have other technicians shadow them, take notes, and write shop SOPs based on that set of productive habits. 

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