Tips for Incentivizing Tech Training

April 1, 2011
Shops can create financing programs for their techs to get I-CAR training and other industry certifications.

At a recent collision repair association meeting, Gene Lopez, I-CAR southwest regional manager, described new requirements for the organization’s Gold Class and Platinum level members. Besides new team-based measurement standards, one of the take-away points of Lopez’s talk was this: Achieving Gold Class under the new rules can require a substantial financial investment on the part of shops and/or their employees. But there are strategies for paying for the training that can benefit both shops and employees.

“A training fee forgiveness program benefits both the shop and the employee. The shop knows the employee has a solid incentive to stay with the shop to avoid having to repay the training debt. And the tech is assured of continually advancing in skill.”

Lopez told the story of Seidner’s Collision Center, which has 12 locations in southern California. Seidner’s uses a rebate system to help technicians pay their I-CAR fees. The company pays for the training on behalf of the technicians, who then “owe” the cost of the training to the company. Over a period of time of employment with the company, techs are forgiven 25 percent of the cost of the training, then 50 percent and so on, until the “debt” is cleared. The benefits of this system are two-fold: First, this gives the tech an incentive to stay with the company to pay off the cost of the training. Second, by taking ownership over the training, the techs gain a sense of pride in their technical mastery.

Another shop considered a similar way to retain people for at least three years after investing in their training. The shop loans employees the fees for I-CAR and other training programs, and then forgives the debt over time in small increments. For example, if the cost of putting a technician through an entire year of I-CAR training is $1,000, the shop loans the employee the $1,000, which the shop pays directly to I-CAR. Then the employee is forgiven 3 percent per month (in this case, $30) of that debt. If the employee stays three years, the debt is fully repaid. This shop ups the ante for further training: If the employee wishes to continue getting trained, the next year he or she might “borrow” another $1,000 from the shop. The forgiveness increases to $60 a month, and so on. The employee has to stay with the shop an additional year to repay the debt.

A training fee forgiveness program benefits both the shop and the employee. The shop knows the employee has a solid incentive to stay with the shop to avoid having to repay the training debt. And the tech is assured of continually advancing in skill. There’s another benefit to the shop operator as well: If an employee rejects the offer of a loan to pay for training, the shop owner might see this as an indication that the employee is planning to leave. Those employees that eagerly seize the opportunity to advance themselves are likely to stay to enjoy the benefit.

Ideally, as the employee completes training stages, he or she also enjoys pay increases, which provide a further incentive to stay with the shop.

Recognition is another important piece of the training pie. Recognition can be a big factor in employee retention in many ways. As the program yields additional certificates, they can be posted where customers can see the increasing quality of the work force. They can also be posted by each employee’s working area to increase employee pride in his or her working area.

Today’s social networking and websites provide an entirely new way to provide recognition. Many companies now post a photo of the employee of the month on their website or on Facebook. However, shop owners should be warned: One shop manager told me the competition for good techs is so fierce in her area, they’re reluctant to post technicians’ names and photos because those employees will begin to get calls from competitors trying to lure them away. But in less competitive areas, this could be an effective way of giving recognition to the best techs and other personnel.

Human nature seems to require growth and advancement. Employees locked into a job that has no prospects for advancement are likely to begin looking for a different employer. As programs like I-CAR expand to offer Gold Class status and now Platinum status for individuals, a longer-term training path exists. But that path also requires a larger cost investment. If the program works according to plan, employees will become very highly trained and more competent, and the shop will grow in desirability for all prospective referral sources.

Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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