Build a Learning Culture 

March 11, 2024
Are you contributing to the tech shortage? If your shop isn’t emphasizing learning, you might be. 

Over the last several years, one of the biggest concerns facing shops has been the technician shortage. More than 40 percent of those who participated in the 2023 FenderBender Industry Survey said the tech shortage is the No. 1 challenge facing their shop today.  

There are many factors that contribute to the lack of qualified technicians in the industry, but Jeff Peevy, vice president of industry relations for I-CAR, says shops need to start looking at themselves as potential contributors to the problem. 

“There's a tremendous amount of attention being given to entry-level technicians and recruiting into our industry, and rightfully so, but the elephant in the room is that a large number of incumbent technicians are underqualified,” Peevy says. “Some of that is driven by (the industry) changing so rapidly, but a majority of shops lack a learning culture.” 

Shops need to emphasize education to thrive in today’s rapidly shifting automotive landscape. 

The Problem 

In working for I-CAR, Peevy has the opportunity to go into shops across the country to evaluate what teams are doing and how they can help foster new practices to help those shops improve. 

During those visits, he says, the lack of skilled technicians has never been more apparent.  

“The problem of the lack of qualified technicians already working in the industry repairing cars – that jumps out to me every time I'm in a shop helping with trainings,” he says. There is a skill gap of the people already working in shops.” 

Though there are other factors that make hiring and retaining employees difficult, Peevy says a lack of emphasis on education in shops is a main contributor to the shortage of qualified technicians. 

“Only around a third of shops today have learning as a centerpiece of their business culture,” Peevy says. “A learning culture helps a technician become and stay qualified. Without that, then we've got a problem.” 

The Solution 

Peevy has spent the last decade talking about developing a learning culture — you can read more about that in this 2016 article from our sibling publication Ratchet+Wrench — but essentially it boils down to creating an environment in which techs are not only allowed to learn about their craft but are also actively encouraged to do so. 

“I've strongly believed that learning is the only source of a sustainable competitive advantage, and I think that is truer today than it ever has been,” Peevy says. “In a learning culture, you give permission and encourage learning and, equally important, you have an expectation that they share what they've learned and what they know, and that they're learning from each other. There has to be an obsession with learning and getting better.” 

That’s where I-CAR comes in.  

Peevy says I-CAR has a unique privilege and responsibility as a nonprofit created by the industry to help the industry. In its 45-year existence, the organization has been able to partner with all players in the automotive industry — from OEMs to independent repairers — to help develop training curriculum that addresses systemic knowledge and skill gaps in a structured format. 

“There was a time when training was just random courses that were built to fill an immediate need,” Peevy says. “As I-CAR matured over the years, we began to realize there was a real need for a holistic structure to help pass along the knowledge and skills needed to execute a safe, complete, quality repair.” 

Through industry partnerships, I-CAR has developed its Knowledge and Skills Protocol, a “dynamic document” that serves as the foundation for all trainings offered through the Industry Training Alliance. It contains standardized parameters for shops to follow in every facet of a repair, providing reliable information from OEMs that helps establish continuity in training standards.  

The protocol is constantly evolving with stakeholder input, giving shops that use it a “North Star” to help guide their training efforts. 

“The strength the collaboration gives I-CAR training a very valid foundation,” Peevy says. “The protocol, the curriculum, the alliance program, the roles that have been developed all become part of the foundation that supports a learning culture. There's nothing that we do on our own.” 

However, I-CAR and other training programs can only do so much. Shops need to take advantage of the resources available and encourage their technicians to participate in educational programs. 

The Aftermath 

I-CAR conducted a three-year study in the middle of the 2010s to compare how shops that emphasized learning fared compared to those that didn’t.  

Many of the shops had similar specs: roughly the same square footage, similar tools, about the same number of technicians. Despite the similarities, Peevy says the range in performance, production and accuracy of repairs was astonishingly large. When I-CAR went into the shops to observe, the main contributing factor became apparent. 

“In the best-performing shops, technicians were quick to help each other and were open to learning from each other,” Peevy says. “The lower performing ones, the technicians saw each other more as competition. They used the bare minimum of the equipment's capabilities. It was a fascinating experience.” 

The Takeaway 

Consistent and constant education is critical to a shop’s success. There are a large number of factors that contribute to a shop’s difficulty to hire and retain skilled technicians – rapidly changing technology and sustained economic issues over the last several years, just to name a few – but a prime contributor to that is shops not consistently investing in education for their employees. 

“For the shops that don't get make learning a large element of their business culture, the number of vehicles on which they are capable to perform a complete and safe repair is going to continue to dwindle. There are going to be fewer cars that they can repair properly, if they can repair them at all,” Peevy says. “That's not a place that we want anybody to be. There are a lot of challenges, and I have a lot of respect for those who are successful in doing it and have a desire to do it right. I think our industry as a whole sometimes fails to respect those that are committed to a safe, complete, quality repair. That's something that is really important.” 


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