Implementing a Successful Apprentice Program
Since the early 1990s, Bob Juniper’s Ohio-based Three-C Body Shops has had an apprenticeship program.
“I knew that the technician shortage was a problem,” Juniper says. “Our business was growing rapidly, but we weren’t able to hire quick enough. I knew we needed to develop our own program.”
Throughout the years, Juniper has tried out a number of different recruitment strategies and has fine-tuned his program to best benefit his business. The one thing that hasn’t changed? The investment that a shop owner needs to put in if he or she wants to execute the apprenticeship program properly.
“It’s a huge undertaking. We calculated the cost of our program and if we have four apprentices at the time, it’s about $200,000 per year,” Juniper says.
Juniper’s program is a paid internship, which brings the costs up, but has also worked in has favor to attract more people to his program. The investment also includes the time it costs to train, tools that are provided and the overall cost to fix a repair that an apprentices may not have done correctly.
Although it’s a huge investment, Juniper doesn’t see an alternative. He estimates it takes most of his apprentices around two years to be considered a full-time employee and an additional year to actually start making the shop money. The way he sees it, the investment pays off long term because he’s able to staff his shop with quality people that will be a welcome addition to the Three-C Body Shop culture.
FenderBender spoke with three people that have either finished or are currently going through Three C-Body Shop’s apprenticeship program: Phil Lawson, an apprentice in his second year of the program who came into the industry late after working in a factory for a number of years; Alex Snyuk, an immigrant from the Ukraine that went through the program roughly 11 years ago and is now a full-time employee at the shop and a member of the management team; and Dan Phillips Jr., the 21-year-old son of one of Three C’s employees that is in his first year of the program.
How did you all hear about the apprenticeship program?
Phil Lawson: One of my friends told me about it.
Alex Snyuk: One of my friends. He was working at Three-C and he told me about the technician shortage and that there were a lot of opportunities for employment.
Dan Phillips Jr: My dad actually works at the shop so he told me about it.
Juniper: We reach out to local schools but we’ve also had a lot of luck working with immigrant services. We’ve had a lot of candidates with a strong work ethic that have come from other countries, like Alex. Another resource is friends and family of current employees. They already know who will be a good fit so their recommendations are always valued.
How was the information that you needed to learn presented to you through the program?
Lawson: Depending on the needs and what exactly the program is, the way that information is presented varies. There are some high school kids that will come in to learn more about their interest areas and they will go and sit in a class. For the full-time paid apprentices, we’re in the classroom and we’re on the shop floor learning.
Snyuk: We have in-shop training for various certifications, like I-CAR. The shop is I-CAR Gold Class certified and has many OE certifications. Most of the training that we did in the apprenticeship program, though, was done alongside our mentors that were provided to us. The majority of the time it was more in the field, rather than a classroom setting. I like that because I’m more of a hands-on learner. I like classrooms, but hands-on learning provides experience and builds confidence. When starting out, you’re never sure if you’re doing something right but the more times you’re able to do it, the more of a feel for it that you get. I think for this industry, on-the-go hands-on training is the best way.
Juniper: I put each new apprentice with a mentor. From there, they observe what their mentor does and jump in along the way and gradually get more and more involved. We have three different levels and I move them up once I think they’re ready. They start off basic and then move to the fast lane department and when I think they’re ready, they move to heavy hits.
Do you all agree that hands on is the best way for the information to be presented?
Phillips Jr: I honestly think it depends on what kind of a learner you are but, for me, hands on is the best.
Snyuk: If you compare the classroom learning that the high school kids are getting versus the apprentices that are working on the floor, I think that the hands-on experience is a much better scenario. I think if you can combine the two, it’s ideal. Through this program, we have full-time employment where we are getting shop floor experience and then a couple of hours of theoretical classroom lessons.
How do you like the mentors? Do you think this is something that every apprentice should have?
Lawson: I like having a mentor. It’s someone that already has experience working right there beside you. Sometimes you need that third hand.
Phillips Jr: I find it very helpful. When I first started out, my mentor was my dad but now that I’m at a different level and working on different repairs I have a new one. It’s nice because I’m still learning, so if I fix something and I’m not secure about it, I can call him over and he’ll check it.
Snyuk: It is crucial to have a mentor. If you don’t have one, it will not work. With a mentor, if the apprentice takes a little step sideways someone will catch it. A little correction here and there makes all the difference in the long run. For me, it was such an important part of my training. If you have a program without a direct mentor, you’ll have safety and quality issues.
What’s the best way for you to receive feedback?
Phillips Jr: I like what we do here, which is formal feedback every once and awhile and consistent feedback as I go.
Snyuk: I like the combination of formal meetings and critiques throughout the process. A formal setting has its benefits because the instructor/shop owner has more time to present the information but the on-go the information is great because it’s fresh and something can be changed right away.
Lawson: For me, it’s important that the feedback is honest. I hear positive feedback all the time, but they’re also sure to let me know the areas that I need to work on.
Juniper: The apprenticeship program is one of my pet programs, so even though I’m mostly retired I still walk around every week to see how they’re doing. I’ll check in with them and get an overall feel for how they’re doing. I’ll check in with their mentors and see how they’re doing. As I hear good things, I’ll make the decision when it’s time to move them up a level. Involvement is so important. When an apprentice sees the owner of a program being so involved, that means a lot.
What do you think makes Three-C Body Shop’s program stand out?
Snyuk: For me, when I first started I didn’t have anything. I was working to take care of my family and tools were expensive. As he saw potential in me, Bob began providing me with some tools. I had a basic starter kit, but once he saw that I was capable of doing more, he provided me with the tools that I needed.
Juniper: We think about employee satisfaction. Although it may not make someone in the fast lane department happy to lose someone, we need to do what is best for the employee and what they want. If that means moving them to the fast lane, that’s what we’ll do. We pay them $10 per hour to start with and then begin paying them more as soon as we think they’ve earned it. We always communicate with them where they stand so if there’s a raise in their future, we’re sure to let them know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll also pitch in with tools every now and then. Tools are hard and they’re very expensive.
What advice would you give to a shop owner that’s looking to implement an apprenticeship program?
Phillips Jr: From the start, let them know what you expect of them and what you need. You need to make sure that everything is being done right.
Snyuk: Diversity is beneficial. Three-C Body has many employed many people coming from other countries. There’s an untapped work ethic there. For example, at our shop we have a guy from Pakistan that had his own body shop of there and he brought a lot of techniques with him. Bob wants to keep a diverse environment in his shop.
Phillips Jr: Make sure that the people that you bring in are willing to learn and progress. You should be able to tell right away from their attitude. Watch them in class. You should be able to tell whether or not their engaged and want to be there.
Juniper: Focus on your shop’s culture. If you’ve built up a real culture at your shop, it will eject the people that don’t belong.