Improving Your Shop with On-Site Technical Training
A technician at Anaheim Hills Auto Body installed a new floor on a BMW years ago. Robert Smith, owner of the shop, says his technician made the repair using conventional methods, just like many other shops likely would have done.
The vehicle ended up at a certified BMW shop further down the line for additional repairs. That particular shop—which had much more training on BMW model vehicles—noticed a number of problems with the floor installation as they began to tear the car down.
“We got called out on all the things that were done improperly,” Smith says. “We had to pay the other shop to redo all of our work,” noting it was in the thousands of dollars.
That was the moment Smith realized the collision industry was changing. “That experience was a wake-up call,” he says, noting his technicians have all the proper I-CAR training, but processes on new vehicles are changing rapidly, and that information doesn’t always get recognized by technicians.
To avoid similar problems from continuing, Smith hired VeriFacts Automotive in 2005, an organization that specializes in on-site technical coaching, training and auditing of technicians’ work.
The service costs Smith about $500 a month, a cost he says has been worth every penny. On-site technical assessments have dramatically improved repair accuracy and efficiency at the shop. And reduced cycle time followed: Heavy hit jobs dropped to an average of 10 days, down from as many as eight weeks in the past.
Some shop owners are finding that technician training shouldn’t end in the classroom, after they attain the necessary I-CAR or OEM certifications. On-site assessments can provide technicians with the hands-on, real-life experience they need to transition classroom knowledge into action at the shop.
Classroom training is important for technicians in learning how to fix cars, but simply knowing something is very different from putting that knowledge into practice, says Farzam Afshar, CEO of VeriFacts Automotive. Technicians need to be shown—in a real-life situation—how some of their training translates to use in their everyday jobs.
Larry Baker, executive facilitator for DuPont, agrees: It’s not uncommon for technicians to take classroom training and still not completely understand the principles they learned during the class, he says.
— Ron Vincenzi, owner, Oakland Auto Body
“I-CAR is great. However there has to be some on-site accountability that no off-site training can offer. There’s no better accountability than on-site, hands-on involvement,” Baker says. “Some technicians are able to take classroom training and run with it, and some struggle.”
Repairers tend to be hands-on people, and are more easily trained on the job. Shops that engage in this often experience 15 to 20 percent gains in efficiency, he adds.
You can have a technician with every I-CAR and OEM certification, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re using that knowledge, Smith says. Not to mention some technicians earned their certifications years ago, and acceptable repair techniques obviously change over time.
Quality Control Factor
Understanding your technicians’ quality of work should be among the highest of priorities, especially since your shop is the last line of defense before that car goes zooming back down the road. Unfortunately, many shop managers don’t have time to assess the work quality on every single job, Baker says.
So how do you assess the quality of your technicians while you’re focusing on managing other daily operations? That’s where a third party, on-site coach or trainer can save the day.
Ron Vincenzi, owner of Oakland Auto Body in Oakland, Calif., wanted the peace of mind that he could stand behind the work performed by his technicians. “We would never want to find out that somebody got hurt—or worse—as a result of us not knowing what we’re supposed to know,” he says.
So he hired VeriFacts Automotive 18 months ago to help. A coach from VeriFacts visits the shop once a month, without notice, to check the shop’s repairs in progress as well as completed jobs. He notes his observations, including strengths and weaknesses of each of Vincenzi’s 20 technicians.
“Unannounced visits ensure technicians are repairing cars to the best of their ability every time since they know that their work could be checked at any moment,” Afshar says.
Within one day of the visit, Vincenzi receives a report card from VeriFacts on each technician. The report reveals each technician’s performance, highlighting areas that need improvement—whether it’s repair procedures, proper use of equipment or repair planning.
Vincenzi says this has greatly improved technicians’ performance, most notably in understanding proper welding techniques for every type of vehicle.
Vincenzi adds that VeriFacts is steadily finding fewer technical errors as time passes—his shop’s report card has bumped up more than 10 points since the beginning, from the low 80s to the mid 90s. The shop was even a finalist in VeriFacts’ Repair Excellence Award competition.
“I now have peace of mind that we’re doing everything right,” Vincenzi says.
Finding some way to monitor your technicians’ repair quality is hugely important, Baker says. “One thing that shop owners often don’t take into account is their long-term liability [that can result from a poor quality repair.] And technicians will keep making the same mistakes over and over again if they don’t realize they’re doing something wrong.”
Unfortunately, quality control tends to be an afterthought for many repairers. When shops get busy, they don’t have time to focus on quality enhancement and quality training, Baker says. And when business slows down, the focus gets shifted to getting more customers in the door. Baker says a significant portion of the industry operates with that mindset.
Certainly shops are able to find ways to monitor quality themselves—especially if you have a highly skilled production manager. But if don’t have anybody with time to assess each technician’s skills, an independent technical trainer or coach may be the way to go. You’re able to achieve the level of quality demanded in the industry today, without having to devote your time to checking up on your technicians.
Any on-site training is valuable, and it doesn’t have to be through VeriFacts. Some paint distributors offer similar services: Roswell, Ga.-based Single Source Inc., a PPG distributor, is one example (singlesourceinc.com). Your local paint jobber may offer on-site technical assessments, too.
Baker also suggests taking advantage of any training offered to you by your equipment suppliers.
“When you walk into shops that are well-trained, the environment greatly improves—the tension is lower and people enjoy working there,” Baker says. “And this greatly reduces stress on the owners and managers.”
The Tech Perspective
Your technicians may feel a little put-off at first by the fact that you choose to have somebody check up on them. But give it some time; once they realize the coach is there to help, they will start to come around.
“The last thing I wanted was for my technicians to view the coach as a cop,” Vincenzi says, knowing the results wouldn’t be so great if that’s the way they saw it. He spent two months prepping them for what was to come, and why it was important for the well-being of the shop.
“Even the best technician in the world needs somebody to look at what they’re doing once in a while,” Vincenzi says. “Sometimes you think you’re doing something right, when in fact you’re not.”
Even if your technicians aren’t able to appreciate the value of improvement, they might like the sizes of their new paychecks. Smith reports that his technicians’ pay has increased, now that they have fewer comebacks, don’t waste time on redos, and are able to work more efficiently.
Prove Your Worth
When you ask shop owners how good their repair quality is, most tend to say they’re the best in their market, Afshar says. Big surprise, right? But if you truly believe you are, that statement means much more coming from an outsider.
“We all feel that we do good work,” Vincenzi says, noting he’s never heard a shop owner boast about putting crappy jobs back out on the road. “But I wanted a way to prove it, to ensure it wasn’t just talk.”
Vincenzi says the only way to do this was to find an outside expert who could take an objective look at his shop, his technicians and the work they’re producing. “I can’t pretend to keep up with all the changing technology and procedures,” he says.
Now, Vincenzi shows people—customers, insurers and business partners—the kind of ongoing training his shop is engaged in, and that he’s got an independent, third-party perspective to corroborate his claim of repair excellence.
There are so many things that you can spend money on in marketing, and this is one aspect that’s beneficial to add to your campaign, Smith says. “Having a third party, who has no bias, say that you meet or exceed industry standards in equipment and training not only helps shops in quality and customer satisfaction, but potentially in acquiring more business as well.”