Changes in Store for the Automotive Management Institute
After 34 years in the collision repair industry and nearly 17 of those working at I-CAR in a number of roles, including, most recently, former senior director of segment development and field operations Jeff Peevy announced in May that he would lead the Automotive Management Institute (AMI) as its next president. AMI was founded in 1989 to provide management education for automotive service and collision repair professionals and now features a curriculum that consists of more than 700 courses taught by 150 faculty members. In his new role with AMI, Peevy is responsible for all operations and developing a strategy to extend AMI’s reach in the industry. He recently discussed his new role and the planned changes for AMI.
What is your new role at AMI and why did you decide to join the organization now?
I began as an I-CAR regional manager in 1998 after being an instructor in my spare time for 10 years prior. I spent nearly 17 years with the organization, moving from regional manager to national fields operations manager to a director position and finally a senior director position, reporting to the CEO, John Van Alstyne. What I found through my time there is that technician training made a huge impact. I led research at I-CAR over the last five years connecting and trying to identify a correlation between technician training and overall repair accuracy, which we identified. I began to realize that as important as training was, one of the biggest obstacles to training was management.
So when the opportunity was presented to me to consider taking the newly formed role of president of AMI, it was extremely intriguing to me. I saw independent shop owners really struggling with the overall competition within the industry and I felt like maybe I could best serve the industry in a position of trying to develop, standardize and build industry-recognized recognition programs for management growth. That made me accept the position in the middle of May.
What have the first few months in the new position entailed?
I spent the last five months in exploration. I learned while at I-CAR that it’s important to just sit down, be quiet, listen and ask questions to really understand what you’re hearing to make sure you understand it—and then try to work to identify how an organization can help fill the needs that you’re hearing.
What was some of the feedback you heard from the industry?
Some of the things we consistently heard is that AMI seemed to have some level of popularity about 15 years ago and before, but for the last few years, people haven’t heard anything out of AMI. And that’s true. The organization was limited by its own database and its system’s limitations. It had a lot of support in the beginning but it really never developed a business model that is sustainable nor did it build up its website and database systems. Just like most organizations, AMI struggled with keeping pace with the rest of the world and the industry. We are blessed with reserves that were built up over the initial programs and they have been untouched. They are now being used by my board and I to create the new AMI, which we are gradually forming right now.
What we also heard was that the Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) designation, which AMI manages for the industry, was very well thought of. Almost 1,800 people have achieved the AAM designation, which represents 120 credit hours in five areas of management. But if you think about it, that’s not a lot of people. It seemed like many people who obtained the AAM designation did it more randomly and just ended up with the designation, as opposed to doing it on purpose. The traditional AMI gives credit hours toward management training, which could be obtained from all sorts of places, be it a paint company or a tool manufacturer. What would happen is that someone would go to a management class at NACE/CARS, take the course and someone would ask them to fill out an AMI credit form to receive credit. Most people would say, “Why not?” They filled it out, we would give them credit and those credit hours would accumulate in their record over the years until one day we would call them and say, “Congratulations, you’ve achieved the AAM.” The reaction was, “What is that?”
Given that feedback, what will the new AMI and the altered AAM designation look like?
We’re going to change a lot of that. What we heard was that as an employer, when someone presents their AAM credential, they would like for there to be some consistency in the foundational things that the employee has proved their competencies on. So, we have changed how the AAM designation is awarded. First, we have added to the traditional five areas of management. Those were sales and marketing; personnel management and HR development; financial management; management and administration; and operations and service. We plan to add two more: risk management, and information and technology management. Now, we don’t believe that the general manager of a shop needs to be able to manage an IT department. But they do need to know enough about websites, SEO, email systems, credit card processing, Internet security, privacy issues and business systems in general. On the risk management side, that would be understanding insurance, EPA and OSHA compliance. It’s about understanding the basics of those things so you’re aware of what you don’t know and where you need to get outside help.
Some of the courses in those categories will be fundamentals and then there will be electives. The electives are very much like what we would do today. You could take training from hundreds of different organizations and get AMI credit for it, but there will be some foundational stuff that you will likely get from AMI. That’s as opposed to just going and taking courses and having it add up to 120 hours. Again, there will be some basic things you have to accomplish in each of those areas of management to be more well rounded.
The second need we identified was for an independent shop owner to provide career paths for his or her employees. Be it in succession planning or customer service, within all those pieces they really needed help in having access to career paths. So, someone who starts as a CSR can go through training and evolve into an office manager role and eventually a general manager. We heard, and we’re working to develop a platform where an owner can search for low-cost training programs in the area of focus and individual employee needs.
What will this platform look like and what will it present for the industry?
The old AMI courses were instructor-led and there were few webinars available. What we’re doing now is building a platform off a learning management system that will enable us to offer online courses and virtual classroom courses, some live and some recorded. Plus, we will have a database system and electronic ways of supporting content to the instructors of live classes. For the AMI instructor of the future, when they finish teaching the course, they will be able to give the student credit on their smartphone once the course is completed. And if they need to send course content prior to the course, that would all be accessible to them through the power of our robust learning management system. We will begin to offer online training, virtual training and continue to support the instructor-led training.
When will this platform and the rollout of the new AMI begin?
Our plans are to have it built and running in 2016, as early as we possibly can. AMI has quite the journey to go on. We’re going to be launching this in phases. We’re working with our board to determine those phases. We’re looking for companies that are willing to support AMI along this journey to serve the industry. We’re working on new support programs so companies can help us enable low-cost, highquality training for the industry. We want to collaborate with all of the companies out there that provide outstanding management training.
In the next month, we’re starting to collect information from training providers across the industry, both collision and mechanical, both technical and management. We’re asking training providers to go online and fill out the information about their training. It will be on our website as a searchable maintained database of all industry training. Whether you need training on a piece of equipment, management training—any kind of training will be searchable on our website. Even though AMI isn’t technical training, I think a big part of managing a shop is to know what technical training is available. We intend to support the industry by providing that rather large searchable database that we will commit to maintaining.