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Skills-Testing Technicians

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A man applying to be a metal technician at European Motor Car Works Inc. in Santa Ana, Calif., claimed he had previous experience doing the work, and even had the certifications to back it up.

Kye Yeung, president of the shop, put him to work. But Yeung quickly noticed the technician was following some questionable procedures. He was also rather inefficient: Jobs were taking him twice as long compared to the other technicians.

He was a hard worker, but clearly didn’t have the skill set needed for the metal department, Yeung says. “After only one week, it was obvious he had no idea what he was doing.”

This might be a situation you’ve experienced at your shop: A technician claims to be the perfect fit for the job during an interview, but ends up being a disappointment once they get on the shop floor.

Just because a technician looks good on paper—with all the necessary certifications—doesn’t always mean their skill level will be up to par, says John Spoto, key account manager for 3M’s Automotive Aftermarket Division.

Yeung admits that the situation with his new metal technician wasn’t the first time this had happened to him. In fact, about 50 percent of the technicians he hires end up being inadequate.

That’s why Yeung implemented a probationary period for every new hire before he offers permanent employment. Technicians have two weeks in the shop to demonstrate what they can do.

That gives Yeung an opportunity to assess each technician’s strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes a technician’s skills fit the job they applied for, and sometimes their skills are a better match for another position in the shop, Yeung says.

Although Yeung’s metal technician wasn’t a good fit for that department, Yeung noticed the technician had great attention to detail. Rather than letting the technician go, Yeung moved him to the paint department. Five years later, that technician is European Motor Car Work’s head painter.

Yeung’s process certainly works to help him gauge his technicians’ skill levels. But there are other ways of doing that more proactively, before a new technician ever touches a customer vehicle.

“Technicians always claim to have experience with every role in the shop. But that’s not always the truth.”
— Robert Gagliano, chief operating officer, Collex Collision Experts

Skills testing your technicians during the hiring process—with written or hands-on tests—can help you identify whether technicians need additional training, what job to hire them for, and if they have the skill level to be successful at your shop in the first place.

FenderBender talked to two shop owners to get some tips on how to make sure your next hire knows the ropes before he gets to work.

Back Up the Talk

Many shop operators waste time and money by hiring inadequate technicians, 3M’s Spoto says. They don’t put in enough time up front to ensure they hire quality workers.

Owners often find a technician’s skill level just doesn’t cut it after the technician has already started at the shop.

Ron Perretta, owner of Professionals Auto Body in Pennsylvania and instructor for PPG’s MVP Business Solutions courses, agrees. Shop owners commonly make hiring decisions based on first impressions of a candidate after a short interview.

“You’re not going to get a good fit for the job when your hiring process is that simple,” Perretta says.

Why? Because job candidates will tell you what they know you want to hear during interviews. “Technicians always claim to have experience with every role in the shop,” says Robert Gagliano, chief operating officer at Collex Collision Experts, a 14-shop operation based in Clinton Township, Mich. “But that’s not always the truth.”

The only way to understand a technician’s abilities is to test them on it first, Spoto says. A testing process helps shop owners identify whether technicians know acceptable repair processes, and if they’re capable of repairing vehicles back to pre-accident condition.

May the Best Man Win

Perretta likes to see the actual work technicians can produce before they ever touch a customer vehicle.

He has vehicle panels staged in the shop for practice, and brings in every job applicant to complete a four-hour, hands-on repair test. Job candidates fix dents and prime, block and sand the panels so Perretta can get a sense of their efficiency and the quality of their work.
“It’s like a tryout for the technician,” Perretta says. “It allows the technician to get a feel for processes in our shop, and lets me see their level of ability.”

This is also a tactic Perretta uses to choose the best person to hire when he has multiple applicants for one job.

In March, Perretta needed to hire one technician. He narrowed the pool of candidates down to two people. As the final step in the hiring process, he brought both technicians in for the hands-on test to compete head-to-head for the job.

The testing allowed Perretta to see that one candidate’s skill level was far superior compared to the other candidate. Both people interviewed well, and this testing was the only way to know which one would be the better hire, Perretta says.

Identify Training Needs

Collex’s Gagliano says he would like to implement hands-on testing at some point, but he says issues with tooling and acquiring vehicles for new technicians to practice on make it prohibitive right now. Instead, Collex administers written tests for every new hire.

Spoto developed four written tests, called “pre-analyses,” for Collex: a structural repair test, a body repair test, a refinish test and a detail test. The pre-analyses are multiple choice, and they are based on standard operating procedures (SOPs) that 3M created for acceptable repair processes in each department of the shop.

“The goal of this testing is for us to understand where technicians need more training before they can be put to work,” Gagliano says. ‘The last thing I want to do is put a technician on a frame machine only to find out that person can’t weld and doesn’t understand the measuring system.”

A man recently applied for a technician position at Collex. He had a laundry list of credentials, and nearly every certification possible, Spoto says. Surprisingly, he took the written test and scored very low.

“That technician thought he knew how to repair vehicles correctly,” Spoto says. “But he was actually not very good, according to Collex’s standards.”

Of course, it’s hard to pass up on technicians who have been trained so extensively. Sometimes SOPs differ from shop to shop, and technicians just need extra time to get up to speed in a new facility.

“We gave the technician some additional training and improved his skills so that he could be successful,” Spoto says. “The testing process was very beneficial for both the technician and the shop.”

“The testing process was very beneficial for both the technician and the shop.”
— John Spoto, key account manager, 3M’s Automotive Aftermarket Division

It saves a lot of time to identify those issues up front, Gagliano says. Otherwise, you have to deal with quality issues, which will cause you to go back and retrain the technician anyway.

These written tests are being used within 3M’s strategic partnerships with collision repair shops. Spoto says shop owners can contact their local 3M representative to acquire the materials.

Cut Out the Waste

Collision repair is an industry where technicians could work for many years and never become quality-minded workers, Spoto says. They bounce from shop to shop and never get to a point where they’re actually repairing cars correctly.

“Think about the ramifications that could result from putting a technician to work without knowing their skill level first,” Spoto says. “There’s a good chance the work they produce won’t meet your shop’s standards.” Mistakes, improper repairs and comebacks cost you time and money.

Before shop owner Yeung implemented his probationary period, he says new hires would regularly make costly mistakes. With the probationary period in place, he has virtually eliminated those types of errors.

You have to have a process in place to cut that waste out of your shop, and avoid dealing with those problems on a long-term basis, Perretta says.

Doing so can give you more confidence that you’re hiring the best possible technician from the get-go. And that will improve the longevity of employees at your business, helping you gain efficiency and quality.

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