Developing a Mentorship Program to Help Grow Technicians

Jan. 30, 2018
Keys to making a technician mentorship program successful include pairing up like-minded employees.

Jim Shreve won’t soon forget the first mentorship program he took part in. As a novice in the collision repair industry, working in Ohio in the late ‘70s, he was tormented by his veteran trainer, who offered little guidance.

There was no real learning during those mentorship sessions, Shreve notes. Entry-level “grunts” like him were expected to watch and then promptly duplicate the work of their mentors.

“Even then, I had enough intelligence to say that this isn’t the way to learn―because I’m not really learning. I’m doing everything wrong, and nobody’s telling me the right way; they’re standing back, laughing,” Shreve recalls.

Years later, Shreve saw to it that the new technicians at his facilities weren’t just thrown to the wolves. He did so by developing a training program with teeth, by adding to the program over time, so that young, ambitious detailers or porters could reach the next rung on the career ladder. It has served Shreve well; nowadays, the collision center manager at Haasz Collision Center in Ravenna, Ohio, is viewed as an authority on technician mentorship programs. Shreve feels mentorship programs are key to solving the industry’s growing technician shortage―and here are his tips for implementing such programs.

Back in the mid-to-late ‘80s, I started developing what was a simple [mentorship] checklist, and it turned out to almost be a book over the next 3–5 years. I found myself spending more and more time with these young people coming in, and having some success. You’ve got to teach them this trade, like you would at trade schools. The mentoring, at least in my area, is a more aggressive way to solve your shortage then it is going through a vocational school.

Back then, I think I gave them 10–15 hours to have a tech working their bay with them. They were developing skills. My greatest success story: I took a wash kid from not knowing anything to, the last year he worked for me, making $98,000.

I like to pair young technicians and mentors up that are similar in age. If it’s at least within a 10-year age difference, you’ll see the brotherly nurturing atmosphere come out, especially if you pair them up by attitudes, or similar hobbies.

The way I do it now, veterans mentor the same tech for three years. And you reward the mentor. On year four, if they stay with me for 10 years, the mentor gets 10 hours per week on that young guy. That 10 hours per week, per tech, is for making sure that the job is right, all the bolts are tight, headlights are adjusted, it’s done. That maybe costs me $130 bucks per week, per tech, but the young techs are learning from a very learned individual.

The creme of the crop apprentices, if you can find one, will turn your whole shop around.

From a dealership perspective, it’s very tough to get experienced technicians in the body field.  If you do, most of them are going to be 50 years old. The biggest problem is no one in the industry is looking forward. In the next five years there’s going to be so few body men, and the demand is still going to be there. If you’re not building on your future with a mentoring program, or hiring young technicians and training them, I think you’re going to run the risk of being left behind.

You’ve got to make an investment. And it has to be an aggressive pay plan. You have to hang a carrot and pay them more than McDonald’s, which means more than $10 per hour.

It’s a good 3–5 years before you start molding that tech that is now out on his own. But what you’re going to see is your body shop is turning maybe five more cars per week, and then it turns into 10. You watch the hours that young technicians really do, the work they really do, and see it’s worth the investment.

If you want to have quality techs, you’d better start growing them now. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge. It’s a tough thing when you’ve got an owner who’s saying, ‘Why are you spending this money’ [on mentoring]? Say, ‘I’m building for your future, for when you retire and your children take over, so that there’s people here that are skilled.’

No one’s going to be build these techs for you; you’ve got to build them yourself.  

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