Capitalize on a Younger Workforce

March 1, 2024
Pacific BMW’s body shop manager attracts staff with a road map for success.

From “Boomers” to “Zoomers,” much has been written about what defines the generations in today’s workforce and how to motivate them. Their different exposures to culture, technology, and world events often give them unique opinions and ideas. But what they share is a desire for less stress in the workplace and more time to spend outside of work, even if that’s something Generation Y (millennials) and Z are known for.

Andrew Batenhorst, body shop manager at Pacific BMW in Glendale, California, had long been a convert to lean, appreciative of how it could contribute to smooth operations and a greater life/work balance. He figured it would be a godsend at his new home. But what would it take to implement it?

The Journey to Lean

Upon taking over as shop manager about six years ago, Batenhorst was shocked to find the shop was hemorrhaging money and had a high rework percentage. Technicians, understandably so, were afraid of losing their jobs.

“I peeled back the layers of the onion, so to speak, and I began to get very worried if I had made the right choice of leaving the shop I had come from,” he recalls.

He began by assessing the situation for the first two to three months, getting to know the staff and how they work. He then laid out a rough draft of what it would take to implement lean in the shop. He focused first on creating standard operating procedures for quality control and repair-planning.

The shop repairs only BMWs and is a BMW Certified Collision Repair Center (CCRC), including being i-Certified to repair carbon fiber structures of the electric i-Series cars. Lean can be successful in any environment, but the repetitive work that comes from working on one make with similar construction and repair methods lends itself particularly well to implementing standardized processes, he says.

“Within a year of us being on the verge of closing to then come out making, I think, nearly 15 to 17% net income from that kind of turnaround – it blew everybody away. The dealer owner and the aftersales director were shocked. It didn't come overnight. But they were very, very pleased to see the numbers steadily increasing month after month and getting things dialed in. That was extremely rewarding to do that.”

Getting Help for the Transition

The shop had been using a different paint brand, but since arriving at the shop, Batenhorst had wanted to leverage the resources of AkzoNobel’s Acoat Selected program available through the Sikkens brand. Batenhorst had services through that program, which include consulting services, management training, financial benchmarking, coaching, and networking at his previous shop, formerly known as Pride Collision Centers. After presenting a business plan to the dealership owners and his reasons for switching, AkzoNobel Services Consultant Jeff Baker helped with additional steps to complete the transition to lean.

“We had a good foundation from what I started with, including putting up SOP boards and doing the 5S procedures. Then Jeff came in to help work on some of the higher-level goals.”

Baker helped revise the SOPs to make them easier to understand and to reflect repair processes required by newer BMW technology. He also helped with what AkzoNobel refers to as the “WIFM,” (pronounced “whiff-‘em”), or “What’s in it for me?”

“That’s really the big piece of the pie for an employee who's worked in a traditional shop for so long,” Batenhorst says. “To a certain degree, you're going to get compliance for all these ideas; you're going to have employees who are just doing what they've been told to do.”

But he and Baker wanted to take the implementation further than that, to tie in the WIFM and how the changes could benefit each staff member.

“In a traditional shop, you can expect the body tech to roll in from 7 to 7:30, and they stay as late as eight/nine o'clock at night, assuming it's a busy, normal shop,” he says. “That leads to a reduced home life when you're spending an enormous amount of time in the shop. And your stress levels are high. That was one of our things we wanted to focus on: what can lean and Acoat bring to the shop to help people live a better life and have less stress? And on top of that, we wanted to be able to develop, train, and grow and utilize these wonderful tools that exist to really enhance their overall work experience.”

Driving Engagement and Providing Autonomy

It resonated with the younger workforce, Batenhorst says.

“It really made a big difference in making the work predictable, setting accountability and very transparent and easy to understand,” he says. “We have defined work instructions on the SOP boards and then tie that back into their performance reviews. And we have key metrics that they can track on their own.”
This helps drive engagement and provides the autonomy they desire, he says.

“Some of my guys who have a little bit more experience came from shops that had foremen who were yelling at them and telling them to hurry up, or ‘What happened here?’”

Shop owners and operators can expect a certain amount of workforce attrition in converting to lean, Batenhorst says, and after a couple years of trying to adjust, two veteran painters decided to quit. But for those who stayed, they “appreciate the level of organization and the standardization that we brought into the shop,” he says.

A ‘STEP-up’ to Making the Workplace Attractive to the Younger Workforce

At age 40, Batenhorst is in the upper age bracket of the millennial generation. Still, he’s often asked by shop owners and managers how he relates to those from that generation and Gen Z.

“Unfortunately, society as a whole tends to place them in this certain bracket of the population [with the stereotypes] that number one, they're this unique oddball bunch that has these unrealistic demands. And then on top of that, they don't want to work. Yes, there is a percentage who I think fall into that. But there are plenty of millennials and Gen Z out there who don't fit into that mold. They just want to make an honest living, and they're harder to find. But you've got to know where to find them.”

The younger generations are attracted to technology, he says, and today’s cars, especially BWMs, “are loaded to the gills with technology.”
Partnering with trade schools is a good step for most owners and operators for recruitment, Batenhorst says, but he has been particularly successful with BMW’s Service Technician Education Program (STEP) apprenticeship program, offered for both mechanical and collision repair through several BMW Group University training centers in the country.

“They all have been properly trained by BMW on how to fix these cars. So they come in with the technical knowledge. They may lack some of the experience, but they're raring to go. They want to prove themselves. Then, tie that into having a progressive way of running the shop with the system we have and us giving them clear targets for objectives on their performance reviews and prioritizing the WIFM for them. That, I think, is what keeps them engaged in wanting to work here and what makes this an attractive place for people to work. As an industry, we've traditionally done a really bad job of making the collision repair industry attractive to millennials and Gen Z.”

How STEP Works

There is no charge to the dealership to send a technician to STEP collision repair training. Out of Batenhorst’s four technicians who have gone through the program, one of them was an existing employee in which he sent him to the nine-month STEP training. Others attended the program independently before he hired them. Two are in the paint department, and two are body technicians.

“Toward the end of the whole nine-month process, they start to get trained on how to interview, on building a resume, in how to you know how to dress for an interview, and they get to know the market of the shops that they're interested in.”
Nearing graduation, students tour the shop with Batenhorst and sometimes with a STEP instructor to get to get a feel of what makes the shop unique.

“And then they go tour some of the other CCRCs. If I had a position posted, they would apply, and we would go from there.”

With his relationship with BMW Group University instructors, he has more applicants than for whom he has a position, he says.

“It’s a very well-thought-out program,” he says. “It really helps on the collision side have a nice stable way of finding reliable candidates to get in here that generally come with a good reference from them. And I'm glad that the word gets out that we're doing good things here that make it attractive to younger people.”

Hiring for Career Development with a Roadmap

Despite industry grumblings, a lot of money can still be made in the collision repair industry, Batenhorst says.

“I know a lot of people say that all the labor times are the worst they've ever been in the history of the collision repair industry. Yeah, they're tight in some cases, but that's nothing that a DEG request can't fix, in my opinion. I hire so it's a career for somebody, and I give them a roadmap to where they can make a six-figure salary. And I do have body technicians in here who can do that, and they really appreciate that. And that's kind of been my methodology for bringing them in.”

Although he’s open to hiring open-minded older employees, the methodology often best works for newly minted technicians.

“This type of shop is already unique. Being lean and having the Acoat system in here, that can easily intimidate a seasoned veteran of the collision repair industry. And I don't need to add all that unnecessary stress by trying to teach someone who maybe isn't open-minded to those concepts.”

He views the entry-level positions as the first step in career growth for his new hires.

“And I get a lot more engagement and performance out of them by developing them and me investing in them, rather than them just being kind of a fixture of the shop and I only expect them to be there: ‘You're here at eight, you go home at five, or you take your hour lunch, and we'll see you tomorrow.’ That doesn't work anymore.”

The career path and workplace environment make it an attractive proposition for work that is often physical and dirty, he says.

Sustain

Implementation teething problems aside, “sustain,” the fifth step of 5S lean production: Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain, is one of the more difficult processes, Batenhorst says, recalling a lesson he’d learned from Kevin Wolfe of LeadersWay on the “Saltshaker Theory.” It’s a simple study of SOPs on how the owner of a well-known restaurant chain has standardized how the tables are set up and set.

“And if the saltshaker is not in the center of the table in that exact spot where it’s supposed to be and each employee starts to do that a little bit differently, it starts to unravel the reputation of that restaurant.”

Figuratively, Batenhorst is the manager putting the saltshaker back in the center of the table each day, as needed. The need to “reorient that saltshaker” is also an impediment for some managers to implement lean, he says.

“With all the other things managers have to worry about, whether it's safety, equipment, training, insurance companies, ADAS, and performing proper repairs – all these things at the end of the day – then to have to go to your body tech and tell them, ‘Hey, you forgot to do the quality control check on that car. What happened?’ A lot of managers don't want to deal with that.”

Gentle Nudging

But if he were to back off on certain requirements just because he gets pushback from his team, it could “start to unravel what we are trying to do,” he says.

“That doesn't mean I have to be a dictator about how the shop runs. It's what I like to call ‘gentle nudging.’ It's a constant gentle nudging of people back in the right direction. Because to get half the boat is rowing one way or everybody's rowing in a different direction. Now the boat is just going to spin in a circle or go nowhere.”

Batenhorst says it’s up to him daily to reinforce lean principles and help staff with the cases that don’t necessarily fit the mold of the SOPs.

“Collectively, how do we address that together? The more I get the team body into handling these issues and utilizing the tools that we have, the less it sounds like it's coming out of Andrew's mouth and commanding someone to do something just for the sake of compliance. It now becomes, ‘This is our culture. This is what we do; this is how we solve our problems.”

He describes his role as being more a facilitator than an authoritarian figure.

“There may be times where someone may say, ‘You know, what, Andrew, I don't understand this part of the SOPs. Maybe we can revise those? Maybe the work product has necessitated a change, and we need to go back and adjust the SOPs.’ And that's great, too. That doesn't happen that often. But maybe once a year, we want to sit down and look at what we're doing. Does it still fit our market, for our for the cars that we work on and the customers we have?”

The Payoff

The time commitment, he says, is in investment that pays off in no longer needing to fight metaphorical fires. Batenhorst has “hung up his fireman’s hat.”

“You would be amazed at the amount of free time you have to do these tasks and to maintain the system,” he says. “At month-end, I go home at five at the latest. I close a few files, I'm done, and I go home. I love my job, don't get me wrong. But the best part of my day is being around my wife and my daughter. So for me, there's an incentive for me, also. If I close files every day instead of on the last week of the month, I get to go home each day and have a good time. And I don't have to go home with my laptop and stay connected like crazy.”

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