How to Build Homegrown Talent

Aug. 20, 2020

The keys to adding valuable entry-level employees on your shop floor. 

Back in 2017, Quality Body Works, located in Eureka, Calif., had little issue getting customers to its door. 

Moving customers’ vehicles through the shop quickly, however, had become a growing concern. Because the family-run facility was often booked more than a month out, customers occasionally had to be sent to competitors down the road. 

Enter Ross Creech, who around that time became a third-generation shop operator, working for his father. The younger Creech came equipped with a business degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and years of experience helping lead a roughly 80-person staff for Mission Linen, an industrial laundry company. 

“There was growth opportunity here, to (make) an aggressive push to get to the next level,” recalls Ross, now the shop’s general manager. 

Creech decided that, while Quality Body Works already had a fairly efficient, 16-person staff, the facility needed to hire more technicians and onboard them quickly, to increase productivity. Yet, he also knew Eureka is positioned in a fairly remote part of northern California, with the closest city of any significant size located nearly 3 hours away. 

He eventually made nine hires that helped provide a jolt on the shop floor of the $3.8-million-per-year facility thanks to a focus on developing talent. Here were the key elements of his multi-pronged approach. 

Include your current staff in hiring. 

When he assumed a general manager’s role in 2017, Ross Creech was motivated to improve a business his grandfather had started nearly four decades prior. And, given his hiring experience in his previous job, the younger Creech looked to fortify the body shop’s group of technicians. In order to do that, the general manager knew he needed to get veteran employees in his corner. 

“Involving (veteran employees) in the hiring process, and getting their consensus, is huge,” Creech says. “It’s important that expectations are communicated to everybody. Because then they understand why we’re doing it, and they buy in. 

“I told them, ‘You realize we’re turning away work that’s going to our competition down the street?’ The answer is we need more techs. And we can develop them, if we’re patient with them.” 

Onboard in painstaking fashion. 

Because Creech was drawing job applicants from a shallow pool (Eureka has a population of barely 25,000) he eventually allowed some very green new hires to dip a toe into the body shop environment. The hope was that, by initiating entry-level employees somewhat gradually, it would allow them to get comfortable quickly. 

So, Creech took great care to explain SOPs, to do thorough walk-throughs on the shop floor, and to introduce those new hires to every veteran employee (even noting details about the veteran staffers like the names of their children, and which school they attend). He lets them know that they don’t need to understand every intricacy of working at Quality Body Works right away, but that he simply wants to show them the big picture. 

“I try to make it a little less daunting when someone’s coming in, so they don’t feel like they have to hit the ground running so much,” Creech says of new hires, whom he also has job shadow veteran employees. 

Have periodic check-ins with new hires. 

Throughout the first few weeks of new employees’ initiation in Eureka, Creech holds frequent check-in meetings with them. He wants to make certain that they’re consistently arriving to work on time, willing to learn, and to do so enthusiastically. 

“You’ve got to make sure you’re having those check-ins,” Creech says, “and telling them ‘Hey, I noticed you were a few minutes late coming back from lunch, but we’ve got to be here and ready to start work on time, as we talked about in the job interview—these are our expectations.’” 

Utilize teaching moments. 

The way Creech sees it, mistakes are hardly a cardinal sin, provided that you learn from them. The only time he gets frustrated with new hires is when they have specifically been given instructions, yet neglect to follow them. 

That sentiment is what he stresses to his entire staff.  

Creech says he “cultivates the idea within the whole staff that, look, we don’t need to burn anybody at the cross when they make a mistake. Mistakes are going to happen; Are we learning from them? Are we owning it when we make a mistake? Most of the time, an (entry-level employee) is doing everything they can, and they just made an honest mistake.”  

These days, Creech adds, his staff cohesiveness leaves him encouraged. 

“Our crew is dynamic right now,” Creech says. “We’ve got some great guys that we’ve brought on that are doing phenomenal.”