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Creating an In-Shop Training Program

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Vehicle technologies and repair procedures are always evolving. That means there is no room for complacency among your repair staff to keep up with the latest technical trends and changes in the industry. Participation in a continuous training routine is essential to the development of a strong, quality and sustainable business, says shop owner Steve Cunningham.

Shop operators have access to a plethora of training avenues to ensure consistent development of technicians’ know-how and repair abilities. But constantly sending technicians to training outside of the shop can hinder production. Although some outside training avenues can’t be ignored, you can reduce time spent away from the shop and accomplish the same educational goals by offering training in-house through an ongoing,  formalized process.

Ratchet+Wrench spoke with Cunningham and one other shop operator who have implemented different in-house training strategies. They explain why they did it, how the programs are organized, and the long-term benefits they have reaped as a result—improvements your shop could also obtain by replicating the ideas.

Steve Cunningham, owner of Eureka Brake & Automotive in Eureka, Calif. Photo courtesy Steve Cunningham

We want to have the most efficient and accurate inspections, diagnoses and repairs performed by all of our technicians. But we’re located in a small, rural town, and don’t get many opportunities for formal training classes in the local area. Attending any outside training sessions usually requires travel and hotel stays. In addition, training sessions usually take place during the workweek, so technicians are out of the shop without producing work for multiple days. It gets quite time-consuming and costly for the business to attend.

But that doesn’t mean we can ignore training opportunities. Automotive technology is changing, and the technical aspect of our industry is advancing fast. Failure to stay current with that puts us in a bad position to accurately diagnose and repair vehicles. So we implemented a formalized, in-house training program 14 months ago.

The Program: The shop manager, who is a Master technician, heads up the training program. On a monthly basis, he researches, plans and administers a two-hour training session for the four technicians in the shop. The manager generally conducts the training through a lecture, and follows it up with a hands-on demonstration using a job in the shop.

The manager develops training topics based on technician weaknesses that require additional education and knowledge. He works with the shop foreman to identify common areas where technicians have routine questions. The training manager is also the service writer, so he is able to assess the types of work that tend to slow technicians down.

The training sessions, which usually take place after business hours, have focused on a variety of topics. For example, we recently conducted training on proper setup and use of lab scopes, diagnostic tools, electrical component testing, and repair order routing. The training is widespread and doesn’t always focus on technical issues.

Following the class, the manager submits a technician attendance sheet, training synopsis, and training materials. The information is kept on file so we can track what information has been discussed with each employee.

Technicians are paid for the training time, and the manager earns a monetary bonus each month for his leadership.

Training Development: The manager spends roughly one hour researching a particular issue and creating a training outline. After selecting a course topic, the manager writes out the information he researched, outlines the training process, and details the way the information will be presented. In some situations, we also purchase workbooks and DVDs to use as training tools.

Shop Improvement: The in-house training program has proven to strengthen our shop in three ways:

1. Training quality. This has improved the quality of education our technicians receive. It has enabled us to pinpoint and administer training on the specific areas where technicians need attention and improvement, rather than attending a general class. We can tailor, focus and specialize the education to match the unique needs of our staff.

2. Repair efficiency. When working on a complex repair, technicians are now far more skilled on what to do, where to go for information, and what problems to look for. The diagnostic process is one area that has greatly improved. Technicians immediately know exactly what to check for.

3. Teamwork. Each of our technicians has different skill levels, and experiences struggles in different areas. This training process has highlighted where certain people have difficulties so technicians can help each other out on the shop floor when those situations arise.

Successful Implementation: Find a high-quality training manager on your staff. Shops should put one person in place who is dedicated to manage and sustain the program. Look for a manager or technician who has extensive and excellent repair experience, ability to lead others, awareness of shop procedures, and a self-driven attitude to stay up to date on industry advances. 

Kevin Donohoe, CEO of Pacific Motor Service in Monterey, Calif., and consultant for the Educational Seminars Institute (ESi). Photo courtesy Kevin Donohoe

I do not want to end up as one of those shops down the road that is only qualified to work on 30-year-old vehicles. If I’m not constantly looking for ways to improve my business model, strengthen the company and generate growth, then everybody in my system suffers. I work hard to stay in front of that, and implemented an in-house training program based on fear of falling behind in the industry.

The Program: We have specific continuing education requirements in place for our staff. Each technician is required to earn eight continuing education credits on a quarterly basis. We have incentives in place for technicians who meet all of their educational requirements, and penalties for technicians who do not. Every technician needs to continuously fulfill their requirements in order to keep their job with the company.

Technicians have the ability to complete all of these continuing education requirements in-house, and we make training available to them through two avenues. First, we contract with several outside organizations to conduct training in our 700-square-foot onsite training room. Representatives from NAPA AutoCare, CARQUEST, AC Delco, and Bosch conduct training sessions specifically for our staff. We have one company come each quarter.

To date, the training sessions have focused on topics such as gasoline direct injection, homogenous injection, driveability, electrical diagnostics, mechanical inspections and testing, and new laws that impact the repair industry. The timing of these sessions varies; they have been held during work days, evenings and weekends based on the trainer’s availability.

We also provide technicians with access to various online training systems. Bosch, for example, has several Web-based programs that we have taken advantage of. Each of our locations has a training room to complete this work, and we make training hours available for technicians during the workday.

Each class offered in the shop has a different continuing education value, and the credits earned are determined by the hourly duration of each class. I will cover the cost of all of the training, and my technicians are paid their normal wage while they participate.

Training Development: Each technician’s training protocol is tailored to their professional needs, goals and objectives, which are set during semi-annual performance evaluations. A few factors that are considered in the technicians’ continuing education efforts include years of experience, licensing requirements, and goals for advanced-level certification.

Our shop foreman oversees, monitors and tracks each technician’s in-house training routines. He is responsible for making sure everybody is on track to meet their annual expectations and goals.

Shop Improvement: This in-house training program demonstrates to my staff that I’m committed to invest time and money to enhance their professional development and abilities. And offering the training on site is a huge convenience factor that alleviates some amount of stress for the staff. That has created an autodidactic environment at the shop—a staff of technicians who are driven to self-teach.

The training program has also been our foundation for capturing additional market share. We’ve seen explosive growth: 8–12 percent revenue increases year over year. When more comprehensive repairs started coming in, the training program allowed us to have all the right pieces in place to provide full service repairs—involved, integrated repairs that could otherwise cause customers to purchase entirely new vehicles.

Successful Implementation: You need to have strong leadership when you implement new in-house training requirements for your staff. You must provide technicians with a clear purpose, reason and direction for the training initiative so they see value, buy-in to the process, and follow your directives. 

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