Two Years In: Service King’s Apprenticeship Development Program
“In my 14-year career, this has been one of the most rewarding initiatives that I’ve been a part of,” says Tyra Bremer, vice president of talent development at Service King, when asked about the company’s Apprenticeship Development Program. Launched in 2015, the Apprenticeship Development Program is a yearlong program that aims to churn out body technicians that are able to stand alone and perform a repair up to Service King standards upon graduation.
Bremer came to Service King three years ago, just as the concept for the Apprenticeship Development Program was being worked out. Bremer was put in charge of building the program. Since its launch in 2015, the Apprenticeship Development Program has doubled in size and now has a roster of 115 active apprentices at 23 different repair centers across the country—and Bremer says it’s only the beginning.
When you first started planning the Apprenticeship Development Program, what was the ultimate goal?
We want to achieve a few objectives. The first is to prepare body techs for a career in the industry. We’re developing competency within the industry and we’re also providing them curriculum that allows them to transition what they learn to real world situations, which will make them more productive.
How are you working to update and improve the program?
We have an Apprenticeship Development manager who works closely with all of the supervisors and he makes weekly phone calls and does check-ins. He’s always gathering feedback. We also have a formal survey that we issue to all of our graduates in case they want to give anonymous feedback.
How has the program grown in its first two years?
When we launched in 2015, we had 15 locations. In 2016 we added nine more and as of February, we now have 32 locations. We currently have 43 graduates within the workforce and in 2016 we started an additional 84 apprentices. We’re anticipating about 127–130 to be in the workforce by the end of 2017.
What was the investment that Service King had to make to develop something like this?
It’s huge. We provide paid training for the students for 12 months. When they join, they receive a toolbox valued at $6,000. Granted, they don’t automatically get to keep it, they have to be with Service King for two years before it’s officially theirs. We also provide tuition assistance and continuing education training credits with I-CAR. We make a tremendous investment.
With such a huge investment, what are the benefits for Service King?
Our ultimate goal is that at the end of the program, our graduates will be able to operate as a standalone body tech requiring little or no guidance. In most programs, when someone graduates, they enter the industry and all they’re able to do is be a helper or a porter. Our students will be able to have their own stalls. Someone who has gone through the Apprenticeship Development Program will have a higher level of productivity than someone that came from a different path and will be able to contribute to the growth of our organization in a shorter amount of time. We invest a lot, but we also know that our graduates have loyalty to Service King because of that. We have helped them grow and they remember that.
For many smaller MSOs, an investment like this just isn’t realistic. What advice would you have for those shop owners that are looking to develop something like this?
It’s all about growing your own talent. For smaller organizations that might not have the funds, find the senior and master technicians and show them what it means to take someone under their wing rather than just having them be a helper. MSOs need to teach their newcomers how to stand on their own. New hires need to be given a goal and a timeline for becoming a standalone tech.
For a tech that’s never mentored anyone before, what would you say the difference is between taking someone “under their wing” and making them a “helper?”
In order to build standalone employees, it’s important that the senior technician takes the apprentice through the full life cycle of a repair and explains each of the different levels. If someone is just doing bumpers, then he or she is just a helper. A helper is assigned smaller tasks. In order for them to be able to work on their own, they need to be involved in the entire process but also understand that it’s not something that will happen overnight.
What are your goals for the program moving into 2018 and beyond?
Past 2018, we want 200–250 new apprentice technicians. Our goal is to add at least 200 to the workforce. There’s an aging population in the collision repair industry and as we add new talent, we’re contributing to our company. There’s a technician shortage. This is not just a Service King challenge, it’s an MSO challenge.