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The Increasing Importance of Technical Training

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Aftermarket parts division CEO Dan Ninivaggi stood on a stage at the brandnew Federal-Mogul Motorparts training center in Skokie, Ill., and said the facility signals the company’s return to its roots.

But, really, surrounded by a room full of the latest in mechanical repair tools and equipment—not to mention a couple hundred or so technicians, shop owners and other industry professionals in attendance—he could’ve just as easily used it as an example of the overall industry’s future.

The grand opening of Federal-Mogul’s Garage Gurus regional training center just outside the metro Chicago area marked the beginning of an expanded, nationwide technical education effort for the auto parts giant. That specific center, where the event was held April 14, is one of 15 technician Federal-Mogul training facilities being opened across the country, and more are planned. Federal-Mogul calls the Garage Gurus effort a “tech-first” initiative designed to provide comprehensive support not only through high-end regional training centers, but also expanded online support and mobile education from teams in product technology vans. 

Federal-Mogul isn’t alone in these efforts, though, says Chris Chesney, the senior director of customer training for CARQUEST. This is an industry-wide initiative, being taken up by the majority of parts and equipment suppliers.

CARQUEST, and its new parent company Advance Auto Parts, are doing the same, doubling down on its training initiatives to provide support to an aftermarket repair industry that is struggling to keep pace with ever-evolving vehicles.

And this should be a wake-up call for shops across the country.

“Everything we do today revolves around the idea of service readiness,” Chesney says. “Our main focus needs to be—whether now or 10 years from now— are you ready to service that vehicle before the customer shows up? Many think they are. Most aren’t.”

AN OLD TREND TURNED NEW

For decades, auto part, tool and equipment providers have offered training to their commercial customers. But improvements to online curriculum—allowing technicians to take training at their own convenience—helped ratchet up the number of opportunities in recent years.

Now, larger companies are taking it a step further by investing back into in-person training programs—once a staple in the industry—not only to improve their standing with their own customers, but also to improve the industry as a whole.

That can be said for Federal-Mogul, Ninivaggi says, as the company used to have 50 service centers, field techs and a stronger emphasis on the technician and training. The company is now sparing no expense to build upon those tenets.

“We’re going to spend a lot of money to do it,” Ninivaggi told the crowd on April 14. “And there’s no financial model that would justify it. There’s no spreadsheet that says this is going to give us an X percent return. It’s based on the simple premise that if we can’t be valuable, if we can’t prove our value to our end customers, who are installers and repair shop owners, then we cease to exist.”

The 15,000-square-foot Skokie facility includes two high-end, well-equipped service bays, a modern classroom, and had a couple “Gurus-On-The-Go” vans on the premises. The other training centers, in what Ninivaggi termed “big, NFL cities where the shops are,” will be similar in size and equipment. Fifteen centers will be open by the end of the year and the total is expected to reach 25 to 30 in 2016.

Federal-Mogul Motorparts offers more than 100 courses in all. CARQUEST, through its CARQUEST Technical Institute, offers similar training options, as Chesney says advanced technical training is becoming increasingly crucial to a shop’s long-term viability.

BECOMING A LEARNING LEADER

Chesney teaches courses around the country, including one where he describes the “shop of tomorrow” and everything repair businesses will need in order to service their purposes in a future marketplace.

One area Chesney has highlighted lately is in-vehicle technology. CAFE standards have put automakers in an arms race to light-weight vehicles and increase average MPG. Chesney says that many believe hybrid, electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles might be part of the solution. He’s not so sure anymore.

“The adoption rates for these technologies have been really stagnant,” he explains. “Customers just don’t want them, so automakers are starting to find more technologically advanced ways to improve gas engines. While that might sound like a good thing for shops, the fact is everything is becoming more and more advanced.

“Shops have to be ready. They have to be prepared to work on these vehicles. And with training, they can be.” Chesney says that, as shop owners, “we all have to become ‘learning managers,’ and reinforce the importance of training and education in our teams.” That means emphasizing continuous learning during hiring and on boarding of new employees. It means regularly scheduled course work, or even mandates on training hours.

More than anything, though, it means ensuring that your staff stays ready for whatever comes through your bays.

“The only thing we can do as shop owners is to set the standards for our own company and our own people,” Chesney says. “We need standards for learning— that includes hiring people and onboarding people and telling them during the process what is expected of them.” 

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