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Mentoring Technicians Through Meticulous Repairs

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As a leader on the floor, Fernando Gonzalez serves as a mentor, a role model, and a diligent teacher to new technicians.

And, with just four years under his belt at Tom Bush Collision in Jacksonville, Fla., it’s all the more impressive that Gonzalez is often only a few years older—and sometimes younger—than his mentees.

Gonzalez’s education and expertise stretches back further than four years, however. Starting with collision classes in high school and falling in love with painting, Gonzalez went on to graduate from WyoTech in Laramie, Wyo., and the BMW STEP program in Greenville, S.C.

And at Tom Bush Collision, his studies haven’t let up—the 25-year-old technician is not only mentoring new technicians on the floor, but also constantly researching new repair methods, finding ways to minimize downtime and ensure quality repairs.

“While we do not have a team system in place, Fernando's actions are as if we did,” says DeWayne White, manager of Tom Bush Collision. “He will always sacrifice his time in order to help a fellow employee. He continually puts the overall success of the shop over his individual accomplishments. He will be a leader in this industry for many, many years.”

In addition to his ability to develop quality technicians, what really sets Gonzalez apart is his conscientious preparation and his meticulous repair process.

I do see myself as a leader on the floor. A lot of the skills I've learned, I've learned from the best teachers I've ever had. They pretty much taught me everything I know. A lot of it is listening and hearing what other people have to say to you. It's brought me to a different view from other people and I've learned so much from that.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m talking down to anyone. I'll ask somebody, “What are you thinking when you do that?” Then I'll let them go through their explanation, and then I'll tell them, “Well, let me show you how I do it and why, and these are my results.”

I spend the time, and a lot of times when I sit there talking to someone, you can see it click, and then you'll notice that person make those changes. It's not about beating them over the head with something. It's taking the time to not only explain it, but also listen.

A HELPING HAND: Fernando Gonzalez (right) often assists other techs in the shop—many older than he is—and helps pass along the knowledge he’s learned throughout his career. Photo by Jensen Hande

When I explain my process, my tips come down to organization. The way I am, I'm very proficient. I'm very picky in my work. When you have to do a job, you’ve got to look at the job correctly and wholly.

One of the things I do is I like to cover my cars completely, except for the panels I’m working on. I'll put plastic all over the whole car, trim out the area I need, and that's just a sign of respect for the car. Someone walks in and sees that, they know I’m taking care of as much of their property as I can.

I’m pretty meticulous about all of my pre-fittings. A lot of body men jump that step. Especially newer ones. I get everything bolted back in. It can take a little longer in the beginning, but if you're off by 3 mm after you've welded the read-end of a car up, you're screwed. You've wasted a whole lot more time than you did fitting it in the beginning.

Doing it wrong one time and it being a problem is probably worth ten cars' worth of time, because then you’ve got to figure out why it didn't fit. And that's not easy to track down once you've started welding something together.

 In the morning, I always lay out my day. If I’ve got a problem car, if there's something that's failed, that's always my No. 1 priority. Then I'll do my reassembles, and then if I have any teardowns, I’ll do those. The majority of my day is the work in progress, but that's how I start my day. That keeps me efficient. You're able to stay focused on the job at hand.

We have a production walk every morning. Our manager and two service writers come up to us and we talk about all the vehicles we've got. That right there is a big thing—it helps everybody know what they have to do from the beginning.

Communication is a huge thing. You have to slow down. If you're working too fast, there's something that will really hurt you at the end. It’s important to be diligent and ask questions on those production walks. When you ask questions, you might think you'll sound stupid or get the wrong answer, but asking questions is not going to hurt you.

The manager and service writers go to every technician because we believe in touching every car every day. They’ll ask us the same questions: “Where does this car stand?” “Are you waiting on any parts?” 

I like to be ahead of the game. I generally have the questions ready with answers, and questions of my own. “Here is my bumper reinforcement.” “Are my clips for that reveal molding here?” “Was this part ordered?” “Did you get a supplement approved on this?” That's how I help move things along and all that generates efficiencies in the end. 

EFFICIENCY IN MOVEMENT: Fernando Gonzalez focuses on purposeful work throughout his day: Each aspect of his job is thoroughly planned, allowing him to cut waste and get the most out of each hour he’s in the shop. Photo by Jensen HandeHonestly, I've been doing it this way since high school. When I got into the BMW programs, that's where I learned to be very meticulous. And here, I’ve learned it means a lot to the customer to see that. If we take care of the car, there are less things we have to do at the end. To me, it just makes my area look good. That's a motto we go with here. The more work you do up front, the less work you do at the backside. 

The thing about newer technicians is they don't really listen. When you try to explain a something to a newer technician, they’re already set in their ways of doing something. It’s good for people to learn from the beginning, to listen and not aggravate yourself. 

Honestly, identifying all the damage when it's up front—that's the main thing I stress. Most new technicians seem to want to go through that process way too fast. You sit down, identify all the damage, you get more hours, you have less problems on the backside, you make sure you get all your parts.

I’m my own biggest critic. I tell new technicians to not put yourself down. I tend to sometimes have a problem with that. There's always going to be downs and ups, but you can’t put negativity in your head. Always keep everything positive even if you mess up. All I want to do everyday when I come to work is make sure I get my job done and succeed. 

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