It’s no secret that the automotive aftermarket is getting more technologically advanced. On top of the body and mechanical repairs, technicians are now having to do computer programming and calibration, EV battery maintenance and a laundry list of other high-tech tasks.
In an industry where bottom lines are getting higher, employees are harder to find and customers are becoming more demanding, it can be easy to look for places to trim back costs.
While it may seem easy enough to skimp on training and provide only the bare minimum to employees to save money and time, Jason Scharton, global expertise delivery senior manager for 3M’s Automotive Aftermarket Division, says that ultimately hurts you, your shop and your employees.
“Training is not an extra cost—it should be considered a reinvestment into the health of the business. Facilities need to be maintained, equipment upgraded, processes optimized, and employees trained—all on a regular basis to keep a business running,” Scharton says. “To stop that reinvestment is a sure sign of business stagnation and decline.”
Training is an essential part of today’s aftermarket, and having a robust training plan for your staff can help make your shop a destination for both customers and employees.
There is no option
There are numerous benefits to offering training to your employees, but beyond that, it also offers a certain level of protection for you and your shop.
With how advanced vehicles are becoming, Andrew Batenhorst, body shop manager at Pacific BMW Collision Center in Glendale, California, says making sure your techs know their stuff is critical to ensure repairs are done properly.
“There is no option. With the way that cars are manufactured and the tech that’s involved in fixing these vehicles, we have no choice,” Batenhorst says. “The liability is so great for us to cause physical harm to a customer by fixing their vehicle incorrectly, it leaves us with no choice. It’s mandatory.”
Robert Molina, CEO of Collision Care Xpress in Pompano Beach, Florida, adds that shops should be investing heavily in training in order to keep up with how quickly cars are evolving.
“It’s the pinnacle to success in our business. These vehicles are changing so rapidly, in order to stay on top of it, you should have a whole training department,” Molina says. “We wouldn’t be able to repair the vehicles that we’re repairing if we stayed stagnant. It’s critical to today’s growth and today’s market.
Make it personal
It seems that every aftermarket association and OEM has their own sets of trainings and learning programs, which can get overwhelming quickly when developing a training plan for your employees.
Batenhorst says focusing on a specific employee and their position can be a good place to start. Look at the job descriptions you provide when hiring new employees. From there, come up with a list of what the tasks are of that position, and that can help guide you to the right decision of what trainings and classes should be prioritized.
Batenhorst comes up with a personalized training plan for every employee to make sure they’re only getting training that will help them grow in their position.
“It’s important that you’re not wasting your money and their time on irrelevant training,” he says.
Collision Care Xpress has nearly 25 certifications from OEMs, and with 80 employees, Molina says that provides an opportunity for techs to specialize and receive training for a select number of manufacturers.
“It’s almost impossible to have every single employee train on every single manufacturer,” he says.
Molina’s shop also offers different trainings for different positions, and there is designated space in the facility reserved specifically for training.
With how much training is available, Batenhorst says it’s crucial to have some way to track who’s receiving what training and when in your shop. Even a simple Excel or Google spreadsheet can help you stay on top of which employees will be out for training on any given day.
“The bigger the (shop), the easier it is for employees to get lost in the fray and the easier it is for things to get left behind,” Batenhorst says.
Virtual trainings have become much more prominent in the last couple of years, and though they are still very effective for some things, Scharton says it’s important to remember most techs are kinesthetic learners, meaning they need hands-on training in order to most effectively retain that information.
“Even the widest availability of on-demand options will most likely not be enough,” Scharton says. “You will need to bite the bullet and invest in the time away from work that will allow them to attend the hands-on, face-to-face, instructor-led training they will need to truly advance their skills.”
Train yourself first
Effective training starts in the manager’s office. Batenhorst says managers need to re-imagine what their roles look like in order to get the most from their shop and their team. Instead of putting out fires all day by yourself, investing in your team and training them can help make your job much more streamlined.
“They need to take off the fireman’s hat. That’s limiting your ability to see what’s going on in your shop,” Batenhorst says. “Once you are able to step out of that and having good processes in your shop and the right people on your team, you can begin to focus on developing the team and creating these training plans and investing in them.”
One key area where managers can improve, Batenhorst says, is in how they view training in the first place. He notes that some managers might be apprehensive to train their employees for fear that they’ll find a better job elsewhere, which is a fundamentally flawed way to view training and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“If you train them well and you treat them well, there’s no reason for them to leave. If you train them up but treat them poorly and you don’t show appreciation and keep them engaged and inspired, they’re going to go try to find that greener grass,” Batenhorst says. “I hope that people begin to realize that the old way of doing things doesn’t really work anymore.”
Making the investment in your employees shows a commitment to them, to your shop and to your customers.
“It’s not optional. It’s the minimum standard of what a shop should be doing,” he says. “The cost of not training is far worse than a momentary dip in your production.”
And if that’s not enough motivation, Scharton says the alternative can be solid motivation, too.
“What if you don’t train them enough and they stay?”