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Creating a Mentee Checklist

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SHOP STATS: Gary's Automotive Service Center   Location: LAUREL, MD.  Operator: Gary Uhlman Sr.   Average Monthly Car Count: 220 Staff Size: 6 Shop Size: 2,800 sq ft; Annual Revenue: $989,000

Having a procedure in place for new hires can not only allow the shop to track the hire’s success, but also can establish and maintain a shop culture. For Gary Uhlman Sr., owner of Gary’s Automotive Service Center in Laurel, Md., SOPs are an important part of his business, as well as a constant work in progress.

Since the shop first opened doors in 1987, five staff members have been added to the business, along with changes to the way procedures are put in place today. According to Uhlman, the shop has always had a training program, but it often was not as effective as he hoped.

In the past, Uhlman found that while it was suggested to read the handbook, some employees had not taken the time to review the materials, creating inconsistency on the shop floor.

I’ve been around for many years,” Uhlman says. “I grew up in the ’70s and the way we think and communicate is much different than today’s generation.”

When it comes to training, there’s an importance in having a set-procedure in place, Uhlman learned, as it ultimately can shape your culture and create consistency within the business.


The Problem

While Uhlman was content with how his shop was growing, Uhlman’s procedures became a way of the past after he attended a shop management program in 2012.

Sitting in the audience, Uhlman realized that he didn’t have an ideal shop culture at his business. The speaker, Uhlman recalls, discussed how if you're not getting the results you want, then you're not clearly communicating your expectations.

During the session, Uhlman reflected on issues carried out in his business: the culture was not there and employees didn’t take the time to understand the company manual, thus causing quality control and consistency issues. Additionally, Uhlman ran into situations where employees didn’t follow procedures, such as testing a car before and after a repair.

And, those problems began on the first day for many new employees and apprentices, who were never formally trained by seasoned mentors.

Uhlman wanted consistency, and there was miscommunication among his team, he realized.

The Solution

Following the training session, Uhlman made his way back to the shop to work on the business’ internal procedures. In order to create a stronger culture and obtain a higher level of efficiency for the shop, he realized the importance of creating procedures prior to bringing new staff members onboard.

Uhlman began to look at where issues were created in his shop; he met with employees to discuss issues that were arising as later brainstorm ways to improve the business. Additionally, he talked to shop owners and researched how to improve the shop.
“It’s all tied together to progress them along and it’s done in a linear fashion,” he says.

Today, Uhlman has a set procedure that he uses to find the right candidate before he or she comes into the shop, as well as a checklist that results in success for the employee and the shop.

“It’s evolved over the course of a couple years. It didn’t happen overnight,” he says.

The Checklist:

Interview: Meet the mentor.

If the candidate feels like the right fit, Uhlman brings the mentor in to the candidate’s second interview for an introduction. It’s important to make sure the mentor and mentee have a good connection, Uhlman says.

“If they’re not going to bond and work together, then the program will never work,” he says.

Prior to introducing the two, Uhlman says to make sure your staff member is going to efficiently lead the mentor. In Uhlman’s case, the mentor that works with new hires is his son, Gary Uhlman Jr.

“Some people don’t have the qualities to become a mentor,” he says. “They have to have patience, follow the SOP to begin with, and have the ability to explain processes and share past experiences and problems.”

For the mentee, Uhlman says, they have to be compatible and committed.


Pre-Hire: Pass the test.

While someone may have a stellar interview that boasts skills, it’s helped Uhlman understand candidates skill-sets by putting them to the test. Every hire that comes in must take a mechanical aptitude test that reveals whether or not he or she is a good fit for the business.
“We’ve had some failures along the way and realized some people don’t have the mechanical aptitude and aren’t cut out to work with their hands,” he says.

The test also reveals where candidate’s strengths are, which gives the shop and mentor a better understanding of what to expect if he or she is hired. According to Uhlman, the tests cover general math questions as well as how basic machines work.
“That will help weed out someone that’s definitely not cut out; if they score a passing grade or we feel that they really have the passion for cars and might be able to work with their hands, and bring them on, then generally we know in the first 30–60 days if they’re going to make it or not,” Uhlman says.

Hired: Establish a budget.

It’s important to establish a budget for the training as mentors and mentees work together.

“We know there’s going to be times where we’re paying the mentee to work with the mentor,” Uhlman says.
During the mentee’s training period, the shop will pay the mentee to study and review materials while at work. According to Uhlman, for an entry-level technician or new mentee, the shop schedules three hours minimum for studying while in the shop during the training period.

In addition to studying at work, the shop decides how many hours need to be studied at home.

First few weeks: Develop timeline and measure progression.

According to Uhlman, every single person learns at a different pace; some hires come with years of experience whereas others, may need to start from the beginning. After you get the hire in, develop a timeline based off of their current skill set.
“We hope that they will be comfortable in the first couple of weeks,” he says. “In the past, we just kind of left that open.”

As the mentee continues to adapt to the shop environment and work with the mentor, pinpoint progression points to further grow the employee.

“We think that some recognition should come with how they progress,” Uhlman says. “We then tie incentives and raises into that.”
The shop then measures the success of the mentee by introducing goals into their work. Uhlman says the shop will give the mentee a production goal, and if they meet the goal, they receive funds for “tool dollars.”

“We give them money to purchase their tools and grow their tools,” Uhlman says. “We’re letting them earn extra money as a bonus to buy tools and start to build their toolset.”


End of Training: Encourage communication and continued education.

As the mentee continues to grow within his or her role, Uhlman is available to answer any questions that the mentee may have. Additionally, the trainee will receive regular evaluations.

“Initially it’s once per week where we’ll sit down and talk with the mentee,” Uhlman says. “I’ll talk with them along with the mentor and ask how things are going, where they are struggling and what they need from us.”

Weekly meetings then transition into monthly meetings as the mentee becomes more skilled in the role.
Additionally, as the mentee becomes more acclimated, additional training will take place with reading material and videos. Some of the materials for in-shop training include YouTube videos, webinars, seminars, and classroom training.


The Results

Since bringing a checklist into the picture, Uhlman says he’s seen an increase in team dynamic around the shop.

“It seems to be a happier, more relaxed environment,” Uhlman says. “[The guys] are always willing to help each other.”

Through the experience, Uhlman’s shop has realized the importance of showing instead of telling.
“It’s not the mentor’s job to teach every aspect of the vehicle,” Uhlman says. “The mentee has to be willing to do the studying and everybody learns differently.

“There’s not one size that fits all.”


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