How Shop Owners Can Support Employee Growth
It had been a struggle for Christina Caldwell, owner of G&C Tire and Auto Service in Chantilly, Virginia, to find technicians. A lack of young people going into the industry has left a shortage of available senior technicians, leaving many shops stranded and searching.
“At one time, there was a big pool to pull from,” Caldwell says, “and the pool has gotten a lot smaller.”
But rather than scrambling and searching, Caldwell decided to implement a program that would not only help their cause in staffing technicians but would also benefit younger general service technicians looking to take a step toward their career goals.
“Talking amongst my husband and our general manager, we thought we just need to take what we have and grow ’em, and grow ’em as best we can,” Caldwell says.
So, Caldwell hired a senior A-tech and asked if he’d be interested in training younger technicians, with the goal of developing them into full-service technicians.
He loved the idea.
Now, G&C Tire and Auto Service will pair a general service tech with their senior tech for months at a time, who will train younger techs to fix everything from brakes to transmissions.
It’s a system that’s helping Caldwell’s shop battle the technician shortage, and it’s giving her general service techs the opportunity to further their careers—an opportunity that may not have been provided at their previous job.
“There [are] some [general service technicians] out there that they leave other shops because they don’t feel like there’s room to grow. There’s no training, and they can’t get better,” Caldwell says.
It's been Caldwell’s mission to make sure that’s not the case at G&C Tire and Auto Service. Caldwell and her team have worked hard to provide employees the opportunity to grow, giving younger techs the chance to up their status right on the job.
“That’s what we’re working on within our business right now,” Caldwell says. “Just trying to grow from within and give them a lifelong skill if they do leave—they have a skill that they can take with them.”
Getting that chance to grow had Caldwell’s general service techs pretty excited.
“The general service [technicians] that are coming up next in line to be trained, they’re very excited, and they’re like chomping at the bit,” Caldwell says. “They can’t wait to get in there and learn more.”
Providing these opportunities for growth is a part of G&C Tire and Auto Service’s business model. Caldwell has been intentional not just about providing the opportunity but identifying and helping her employees reach their career goals.
There’s no way to help employees grow and reach their goals if you’re not quite sure what those goals are. At G&C Tire and Auto Service, the whole staff puts together their own vision board or goal poster and hangs it up on their desks.
They’ll do weekly one-on-ones with the staff and see how they’re progressing towards those goals and whether there’s anything that, as leaders of the shop, they can do to help.
“Their vision boards are career-oriented and also personal,” Caldwell says. “We’re always there to try and support them and get them to where they want to be … It makes us happy to see our employees growing and accomplishing things in life, especially our younger employees.”
But vision boards certainly aren’t for everyone.
“I did try that,” jokes Kathleen Brown, president of McKonly’s Garage in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, “my employees weren’t too receptive.”
Still, Brown has a very similar approach at her shop. They do weekly one-on-ones with employees to help identify their personal and professional goals. If there are anything leaders of the shop can do to provide support or help employees reach those goals, they don’t hesitate.
“Then I keep that stuff in mind so that if I want to reward them for something well done that might be something towards their personal or professional goal,” she says.
Both Caldwell and Brown are intentional about giving their employees time and opportunity to identify and reach their goals.
In addition to the in-shop training for technicians, Caldwell is a member of the Automotive Training Institute (ATI), which offers training and coaching calls. Caldwell said her husband used to take the coaching calls but has since passed those on to their service advisors, who rotate taking them so everyone can get in on the coaching.
Brown is also an ATI member and regularly sends employees to trainings.
“I have one employee now that I’m sending to every training he can get,” Brown says. “He is loving it, absorbing it, and most importantly, implementing it and holding me accountable.”
Caldwell says they “constantly” offer online training to service advisors, and her husband is big on sending podcasts that focus on career development and improvement.
“Just trying to get everyone to be the best possible person they could be at their job,” Caldwell says. “My husband’s always saying, ‘If you’re not growing and learning, you’re dying.’ So that’s one of our things that we push.”
Keeping a Balance
While employees need to grow, work still needs to get done. At G&C Tire and Auto Service, they make growth a part of what they do.
Technicians are training on the job. The one-on-ones are scheduled during work time each week. Trainings can be squeezed in throughout the day or taken home after hours.
“I mean we have our challenges if we’re extremely busy and stuff … but we try not to disrupt business as (best) we can,” Caldwell says.
Brown admits she cringes during meetings that go long, knowing there’s no work getting done while they’re there. In a recent meeting, an “extra-long meeting,” Brown and her staff discussed a book they had read together.
While the meeting went long, Brown didn’t have any regrets.
“I’m never disappointed once we take the time, how it moves us forward as a team … I know it’s the right thing to help us work together as a team and get things done,” Brown says.