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4 Steps to Creating a Successful Apprentice and Technician Match

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SHOP STATS: Northwest Automotive  Location: Kalispell Mont.  Operator: Christopher Petersen  Average Monthly Car Count: 220  Staff Size: 7  Shop Size: 7,500 sq ft Annual Revenue $1.1  

Before Christopher Petersen owned Northwest Automotive in Kalispell, Mont., he used to be a technician at a dealership. While he was there, he would take part in training new apprentices. But with the poor team atmosphere and competitive nature of technicians in the dealership industry, the program came with fears.    

“There’s always the worry of, ‘I’m training somebody to take hours away from me’,” Petersen says.

Petersen does say that the independent mechanical repair industry seems to not have that issue, with a lot more of a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” attitude. But while participating in the apprenticeship program at his old job, Petersen picked up tips and tricks for running his own successful program at his shop in Kalispell.

One of the ways Petersen makes sure that his apprenticeship program continues to work at Northwest Automotive, is by pairing up apprentices with the right technician. How does he do it? By playing personality matchmaker. Below are his four tips for doing just that.


Check the Senior Technician’s Interest.

Steve Reinarts, dean of automotive programs at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minnesota, sees the many partnerships built between mentors and his students–the successful and, although rare–the not so successful. Reinarts’ students go all over for their internships, from dealerships and collision repair shops to small auto shops. But every partnership must have a mentor with the same four qualities: they work well with others, have a good amount of experience, are giving, and excited to be involved, says Reinarts.  

“You’ll get more out of a volunteer, than if you tell somebody [to do it]” Reinarts says.

Before Christopher Petersen starts the process of matching an apprentice up with a senior technician, he makes sure to speak with each tech to gauge their interest levels. This step seperates the technicians that are ready and wanting to take an apprentice under their wing from those uninterested or unprepared.

Multiple different factors could come into play as to why a technician may or may not be ready to be a mentor. If a tech was just recently mentoring an apprentice, they might not want to step into the role so soon after to avoid the risk of getting burnt out, Petersen says. A tech might also want to negotiate pay, with the feeling that they put in too many hours with not enough added compensation during a previous apprenticeship session.

“There are various different agreements with shops with how they can compensate their technician to be a mentor,” says Reinarts.

Whichever way each shop decides to compensate for their technician's extra time and guidance, the importance of the mentor being comfortable with their pay is vital to how they view the program and ultimately, how successful the partnership will be.

“It doesn’t matter how skilled that senior tech is, if they don’t seem interested or buy into the apprenticeship program, they are going to sour the new employee,” Petersen says.


Be Aware of Intentions.

Beyond making sure the senior technician is interested, and fully supports the apprenticeship program, Petersen warns shop owners to suss out their tech’s intentions. The senior technician may try and abuse their position by not accurately flagging the work in which the apprentice participated. This misuse of power will ultimately create a negative dynamic.

“What I look for in a mentor, and I’m going to be blunt, is not someone where all they worry about is money,” says Steve Reinarts.

Petersen says it’s rare in the setting of independent shops, unlike his past experiences in dealerships, to have techs worrying about apprentices eventually taking their hours and work from them, but he still speaks with them to ensure their responsibilities.  

“I always tell my technicians if you're worried about what the other guy is doing, then you’re not concentrating on what you're doing,” he says.

Petersen hasn’t had issues with this at his Kalispell shop, and he attributes this to his ability to successfully match techs up with apprentices based on their personalities.


Take Them Outside the Shop.

Petersen says that meeting with your new apprentice outside of the work environment is key to getting to know who they are away from the industry. He will also “Facebook stalk” them to understand more of their general personality.

“By the time I have agreed to bring an apprentice on, I’ve meet with them several times. I might have taken them and their spouse out to dinner to get to know them in a more casual environment to see what their interests are,” Petersen says.

This step in the process becomes paramount in matching up the apprentice with the right technician. The connection between a successful pair goes beyond talent and industry knowledge and centers around shared interests, communication, and ultimately how they will get along with each other.     


Get to Know Their Passions.

While getting to know the new apprentice, Petersen takes note of a few factors that he will take into account when creating a match. One of the main traits he looks out for is how the individual communicates. Are they talkative or more reserved? What are the topics of conversation that they bring up? What are their hobbies and interests outside of the automotive industry?

“I want whoever I pair up to have things in common, other than, ‘we just like working on cars.’ It helps the whole team environment,” Petersen says.

Petersen then uses all of the information that he has accumulated to put together a successful mentor-mentee relationship. He will take into account his new apprentice’s personality traits, communication styles, and general interests to match them up with a tech in his shop that fits the same profile.

So far, Petersen has been extremely successful in his pairing abilities. He says his apprenticeship program has been a positive experience and his mentor-mentee’s personalities have been well matched. Northwest Automotive continues to have a strong team, ready to bring on graduated apprentices as full time technicians.  

These cultivated matches may reach the ultimate success if they work out well. Reinarts says that a great pair will continue with the mentor ingraining mentorship skills on to the mentee, resulting in the cycle continuing.   

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