Implementing a mentorship model in your business

May 28, 2018
The stigma of mentors is that they should be your most experienced, oldest or most productive tech. This is false. The ideal mentor is someone who first wants to pay it forward.

Editor's Note: This article was orginally published May 28, 2018. Some of the information may no longer be relevant, so please use it at your discretion.

It has been amazing to watch our industry come together in an effort to solve collective issues, such as the technician shortage and the onslaught of new technologies. No other industry I know of cares about their competitors the way we do. While this is noble and admirable, I fear it puts us in a frame of mind where if we simply support each other and work cohesively, then the technician shortage and technology mountain will soon pass.

For some, it certainly will. It will pass because they found themselves in a situation that causes them to close the doors forever while those who are prepared to change their current business model find themselves in an exciting world of growth and longevity. Which group do you identify with?

That’s why we need to talk about creating lifelong mentors in our industry. In the past when new technology became available, we got away with learning on the job or going to a class or two on the topic and then trying new skills out on a customer’s car. The technology was simple enough that we got away with it; we learned on our customers’ time and on the back of our productivity, ut what about today?

When a new ADAS-equipped vehicle rolls in the door for an alignment, can we afford to practice on a customer car? Can we risk our credibility by not fully understanding these new systems, causing return visits and eroded confidence with both our customers and our team? Of course we can’t.

We live in a time where technology is so advanced that we can’t afford to learn on the job when a car floats through door. Instead, we must create a structured learning environment in our businesses that enables the growth of each position. This must be done in a way that does not create a burden on your production, and your customers' time, but in a way that provides a clear and efficient path of learning from the time someone joins your organization to the time they move on.

Mentorship is a relationship where a more experienced or knowledgeable person helps guide a less experienced or knowledgeable person. The stigma of mentors is they should be your most experienced, oldest or most productive tech. This is false.

The ideal mentor is someone who first wants to pay it forward. This is usually someone currently in the role that the apprentice or mentee is working towards so look at your entire staff as a potential mentor. As a personal example, I mentored my first apprentice when I was 24-years-old.

I was able to benefit from the experience more than I ever imagined because the primary by-product of mentoring is the knowledge gained in preparation to properly serve the mentee. The responsibility of guiding another person to perfect a craft you respect is a heavy burden, lightened only by being prepared to share the truth. This isn’t always demonstrated by knowing everything about a certain system or service technique, but is more often seen by your demonstration of how you learn and how you solve problems. It also involves honesty without sugar coating, and the ability to encourage and give positive yet constructive feedback to the mentee. It means becoming an advocate for the mentee by investing in their career.

Let’s look at how the business side of a mentorship program might look. First, keep it simple. If the mentor needs a degree in accounting to figure out their financial benefit, then it won’t work. Likewise, if the mentee doesn’t see light (money) at the end of the tunnel, they won’t last.

The first step is to establish that everyone in the company will always be in a position of apprenticeship where they are working with a mentor, and everyone in the company will always be a mentor where they are sponsoring the growth of another. It is a cycle of learning that creates the greatest benefit for all. This means you need to create a significant culture shift in your organization, so it makes sense to work your way toward the above model by initiating a mentorship program for new team members.

The simplest model provides the mentee with a living wage. It should not be based on productivity to start but should be enough that they can support themselves. In most cases, the cost of this wage is shared by the business and the mentor. In a shop that still pays via flat rate, the mentor should flag all the work produced by the mentee.

Next, the mentor/mentee team needs enough space to be productive. You can’t expect to see an increase in productivity from the increase in overhead if you don’t give them the space to learn, produce and advance. If you pay your team a salary with a production incentive, then you might adjust the incentive or salary for the mentor. A successful mentorship program should not cost you anything in the way of lost production, and if implemented properly, will increase efficiencies and production over time.

The duration of a mentorship program depends on the maturity of your program. If you are just starting out and are growing a recent graduate of a two-year post-secondary program, then two years is recommended. Merit increases for the mentee must be defined and communicated, and production incentives for both must be planned and communicated as well. Most importantly, you must have a plan that is created as a team and communicated consistently from the very beginning. As your program grows and matures, you’ll find that the concept of creating mentors for life will allow you to build mentorship into your business model where there aren’t any special pay plans or incentives. It simply becomes your business model that supports the continued growth of the company.

How do you become a great mentor? In my opinion, you must first be a great mentee. The best mentor is going to be the best apprentice.

A mentor also needs a mentor. In fact, the way we solve the technician shortage in our industry is to create mentors for life. To be a mentor, you must commit to becoming an apprentice for life. It is this cycle of constant learning and sharing that allows us to all stay abreast of the rapid technology growth in this industry, but how do you get started?

I suggest looking at the recent program created by partners ASE and S/P2 to develop and support mentorship in our industry. S/P2 is an organization that provides safety and pollution prevention training for our industry, as well as vocational education that meets OSHA requirements. They have more than 2,300 schools in their program and thousands of aftermarket shops as well.

Recently, they took on the task of creating an online course that supports a mentorship program. It includes modules for the manager who must be the driver of the program, the mentor who is responsible for the growth of the apprentice, the mentee who needs to understand what is expected of them and a module focused on the resources needed by all to support the implementation of the program in your business. It also demonstrates the need to work with the local vocational institutions. The program will soon offer an app that the mentor can use to interact with the learning objective of the mentee quickly and easily via their phone. ASE supports this effort, and you can find more information on

Hopefully this information helps and encourages you to begin a mentorship program of your own or helps to better define your current program. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with comments about how you have successfully implemented a mentorship program in your business. While we are focused on growing our own businesses, we also must share our successes with our peers so we may all survive.

About the Author

Chris Chesney

Chris Chesney is vice president of Training & Organizational Development for Repairify, Inc. In his 50-year career, he has held every primary role from a Master Technician, Service Advisor, Shop Owner, Technical and Management Educator, owner of a successful independent training organization, and for 22 years he led the Carquest Technical Institute (CTI).  He is a self-taught technician with a background in engineering and a passion for preparing the next generation for technologies on the horizon.

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