Creating change in the auto industry requires commitment, not just involvement

March 27, 2018
It isn’t hard to get involved. Start by finding the school in your area. But my challenge to you is to make a commitment to your business, your customers and your industry.

You’ve most likely heard the story about the chicken and the pig. Both lived on a farm and were raised by a farmer who made sure they had everything they needed. One day the chicken thought it would be great to do something nice for the farmer. The chicken approached the pig with his idea. The pig asked “What do you suggest we do?” to which the chicken replied, “Well, the farmer really likes a good breakfast. Wouldn’t it be great if we made him breakfast since he has little time to do so?”  

The pig replied, “What should we make for his breakfast?” The chicken thought for a moment and said “Well I know he likes eggs. I would be happy to provide a couple.” The pig then asked “What else would the farmer like for breakfast?” The chicken again gave it some thought and replied “He really likes bacon! It would be great if you provided some bacon.” To which the pig replied, “Well that’s just great. Your contribution requires your involvement while mine requires a total commitment on my part!”  

This story illustrates the current issues we face in the automotive service industry. There are some who are involved, yet few who are fully committed. There are many who aren’t even coming to the breakfast table, yet complain they are hungry. The issues we face as an industry are many; the technician shortage and the never-ending onslaught of new technologies are just two examples. As I visit with shop owners and technicians across the country, the conversation always includes at least one or both of these issues. Everyone is concerned because these issues threaten our livelihood and the way we do business. Everyone is concerned because they signify change in how we support our teams.  

Let’s look at a couple examples that need our attention. First, there is industry concern that vocational schools are not producing what you need in the way of skilled technicians. Many shop owners complain that the graduates they hire simply can’t perform the services offered without further investment or training, so they hire them and put them on the lube rack and hope they learn the skills they need there. Yet, they complain the young techs can’t do an inspection correctly, or that they don’t seem to have the desire to learn or the enthusiasm to grow. Or, they complain that the OE dealers are cherry picking the best talent and leaving the rest to the aftermarket.  

These are all concerns, but the solution is staring us right in the mirror. Vocational schools are limited in time and resources to grow new talent. In the last 20-plus years, the complexity of the automobile and the services you provide have increased tenfold, but schools are still dealing with the same or less resources as they attempt to provide you with talent. Couple this with the fact that vocational instructors are usually one or two-man teams that spend more time at their craft than most of you, and get paid less than half what you pay your top technicians. For those schools that have achieved ASE Education Foundation credentials, they must meet all the record keeping standards and must decide what topics and skills to focus on each semester. Quite frankly, they can’t do it successfully without your help.  

As a requirement of their accreditation, vocational schools must form an advisory council. This advisory council is charged with providing the instructor with direction regarding the focus of their program and the skills they want to see as a result. If you are concerned that the OE dealer is getting access to the best students, it is likely because the dealer is involved and committed to supporting the local vocational program and you aren’t. Thinking these training programs are only for the OE dealer is just not true. Consider this: you pay taxes in your community. Those taxes support the vocational programs that need your help. You have every right as a taxpayer to give input and to influence the programs that those taxes support. It is easy to get involved. First, it takes a phone call. Don’t wait for the vocational instructor to call you. In many cases they are new to the position and don’t have the knowledge of how to approach you, however they will accept your help. Become a part of their advisory council. Review what they are teaching and how they are teaching it. Partner with them by reviewing their curriculum. Observe the way they teach a skill. Ensure they are building what you want by getting involved. But better yet, make the commitment to support them by getting your peers in the community to join you. These efforts need to be a "we" project rather than a "me" project.  

I often hear this comment from shop owners: “I only visit the school or get involved when I need a new technician.” This is the equivalent of being on a deserted island with vegetable seeds and waiting until you’re hungry before you plant the seeds. In order for you to ensure you have the talent you need when you need it, you must have a program in place where you are sowing, watering and growing new talent. If you happen to have someone in the pipeline who is ready to work on their own as a productive technician but you don’t have a spot open for them, if you have the involvement of your peers, then you can find them a home easily. It is critical to always have someone in the process of growing their skills so you always have that resource to draw from when the need arises.  

Lastly, there is the old perception that if I bring someone onboard and put a mentor with them, I’m going to lose money because the tech that is mentoring is producing less and the apprentice won’t make up for it. If this is your perception, you are approaching the mentor/apprentice opportunity with the wrong plan. First you must choose the right mentor; most likely, and almost never, is this your master tech with the most experience. The best mentor is someone who is still gaining experience but is passionate about doing the job right and sharing what they know. Believe it or not, you might be choosing a 25 to 35-year-old technician as your mentor. More on that topic in the next edition.  

So, the question is, are you coming to breakfast? If you are, which element of breakfast are you — the chicken or the pig? It isn’t hard to get involved. Start by finding the school in your area. Visit and click on the Find a School link near the bottom of the page. Come to breakfast because it’s the most important meal of the day. Better yet get involved. But my challenge to you is to make a commitment to your business, your customers and your industry. Be the bacon!

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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