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Skills Testing New Technicians

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Just because a technician looks good on paper doesn’t always mean their skill level will be up to par, says Mike Davidson, owner of Parkway Automotive in Little Rock, Ark., and a coach with Elite Worldwide.

A technician may claim to be the perfect fit for the job during an interview, but ends up being a disappointment once they get on the shop floor.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that there is a ton of literature out there to teach people how to be interviewees,” he says. “People know what to say to get hired.”

That’s why Davidson has worked to develop a system for hiring that leaves little to chance. Skills testing your technicians during the hiring process—with written or hands-on tests—can help you identify whether technicians need additional training, what job to hire them for, and if they have the skill level to be successful at your shop in the first place.

Davidson says doing so has helped him create an environment with not only a harmonious team that works well together, but also where new hires are more likely to succeed and with less uncertainty.

Worth the Effort

Many shop operators waste time and money by hiring inadequate technicians, says Bill Greeno, owner of Quality Automotive and Smog in Truckee, Calif. Putting enough effort in up front to ensure they hire quality workers is key, as finding out a technician doesn’t cut it after they already started working at the shop wastes valuable time and resources.

Greeno says shop owners commonly make hiring decisions based on first impressions of a candidate after a short interview. The danger, he says, is that those candidates are prepared for most questions and may only tell you what you want to hear.

“There are a lot of people out there who will say anything to get hired,” he says. “They’ll lie if they have to. A lot of people don’t even consider it lying because, ‘Of course I’m going to say whatever I need to say to get the job.’”

The only way to understand a technician’s abilities is to test them. There are a number of testing processes that can help shop owners identify whether technicians are right for the shop culture and if they know acceptable repair processes.

Testing Technicians

Mike Haley, a team leader with the Automotive Training Institute, says that the most common tests he helps shops create are aptitude tests for technicians. He says he recommends that shop owners create working interviews, where they set up a car with a problem, make sure the candidate has all the necessary tools, and give them a time limit to find out what the problem with the car is. Haley says he recommends using the owner’s car and not a customer car for the exercise, and simply pulling out a fuse or disconnecting something purposely. 

“I think what better way to figure out how they work than actually watch them work?” he says. “You want to look at how they went about finding the problem, did they take the right steps, were they in the right area.”

Haley says the testing areas vary depending on the position, but he recommends testing for diagnostic skills and wiring schematics for A-level techs, bolt-on aptitude for B techs and maintenance items for C techs.

If you don’t have a test vehicle available in your shop, Haley says he also recommends verbal tests by asking open-ended questions. As the final step in his hiring process, Davidson, for example, has candidates go out and meet with staff members one-on-one in their bays.

“All of my staff have been trained to ask them questions that can help me determine their skill level,” he says. “They’ll ask technical questions or what-would-you-do-in-this-situation questions that they can’t bluff their way through. Then we all meet together and decide who will be offered the job.”

The testing allows Davidson to see the candidate’s skill level, as opposed to merely their interview. He says it’s a quick way to assess which candidate might be a better fit for the shop and allows existing staff members to get to know candidates and weigh in. 

Skills Testing Service Advisors

When it comes to hiring service advisors, both Davidson and Greeno recommend testing personality strengths. Greeno says he wants to make sure that service advisors are able to communicate and get along well with others, and says that these types of quizzes offer a window into how they might interact with customers.

“There are particular strengths that just don’t play well with others and aren’t adaptable,” Greeno says. “To work in a small group of people, you have to be adaptable.”

He has service advisors take a “Strengths Finder” quiz, a multiple-choice quiz that introduces 34 dominant personality “themes.” Greeno says he uses the tests as a way to compare the responses from the candidate’s interview and identify if they fit in with the existing service advisors.

Identifying Training Needs

Although skills testing new hires can have a number of helpful benefits, Haley cautions against relying on it too heavily.

“One of the pitfalls I see shops fall into is putting a tremendous amount of weight on just that aspect of it,” he says. “Sometimes they won’t even consider someone they normally would hire. You don’t know what to do at that point because you like that person but they didn’t score very well.”

Haley says it should instead be viewed as part of a greater picture and not the sole decision factor. Sometimes a technician’s skills fit the job they applied for, and sometimes their skills are a better match for another position in the shop, he says. For example, rather than letting the technician go, he could be moved to a different department. 

Finally, Haley says skills testing could also be used to identify training needs. Standard operating procedures can differ from shop to shop, and a technician may just need extra time to get up to speed in a new facility.

“I can teach anyone to do almost anything,” he says. “I would absolutely like to take someone who has my same beliefs and who I can train.”

The point, he says, is that doing the testing up front allows you to identify a technician’s strengths and weaknesses and save time up front to deal with any quality or training issues. 

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