Mike Brewster, now in his 31st year as owner of Gil’s Garage Inc. in Burnt Hills, N.Y., laughs at the absurdity of the thought.
“Early on, we didn’t have much of an onboarding program,” Brewster says. “It used to be, ‘There’s a lift, there’s an open bay, go to work. Let us know if you need anything.’
“What I’ve learned over time is information for a new hire is key.”
Nowadays, Brewster is a virtual scholar when it comes to onboarding—the process of acclimating new hires into a business and providing them with the knowledge and resources to be successful. At Gil’s Garage, Brewster gets new hires embedded in his shop culture rather quickly. As a result, he has gained respect from peers for having a staff that’s fiercely loyal, resulting in minimal turnover; the 34 total employees in his business average 14.48 years of service with the company. Additionally, his business’s retention rate in 2016 was 94.1 percent.
Despite the fact that some shop owners feel an effective onboarding program is invaluable, most auto repair businesses bring new hires into the fold in a fairly unstructured manner—which can leave them with disgruntled employees who have one foot out the door. The cost of hiring can also add up in a hurry, with the average cost to replace an employee equating to 16 percent of an annual salary for high-turnover positions, according to Zane Benefits, when accounting for the sum total of job advertisements, man hours spent reviewing resumes, and resources devoted to interviews, drug screenings, and background checks.
With that in mind, Brewster provides the keys for utilizing an onboarding program that swiftly and effectively brings new hires into the fold.
BEFORE YOU START
The onboarding process essentially begins the first time a prospective employee sets foot in your shop. Fully vetting interviewees can save both parties immeasurable frustration down the line.
“The secret sauce for us is the fact that we slow down the whole process before we hire anybody,” says Brewster, who typically puts potential hires through three or four interviews at Gil’s Garage. “When owners make a quick decision—they need a body, so they make a hire now—the likelihood of that working out, the odds are smaller.”
A key element of the vetting process is gauging whether a possible incoming employee will fit within your shop environment. This, too, can be addressed during the interview process, with well-crafted questions. For example: A veteran technician could be asked how he or she feels about performing oil changes. If the veteran prospect responds with an answer that suggests he or she feels above such a task, it might not be an ideal fit for your shop.
“We certainly talk about it in the interview process,” Brewster says. “We hire for attitude and aptitude—somebody that’s willing to learn, somebody that’s friendly.”
UTILIZE DETAILED, REGIMENTED TRAINING PROGRAMS
The first two weeks at a new job can go a long way toward determining if an employee will be a long-term fit. As a result, new hires should promptly be placed in a training program that accounts for nearly every minute of their first days on the job.
Over those initial days, new hires should be introduced to as many co-workers as possible, go through initial orientation—during which their new business’s primary philosophies and expectations are explained—and take part in ample job shadowing.
One hour of classroom-style tutorials per day is a virtual industry standard among shops that have onboarding programs. Such tutorials offer an ideal opportunity to indoctrinate new hires into your shop culture, and to explain why you utilize the processes you do.
“We go through our history, what separates us from the competition, and why the sales team and technicians have the most important relationship in the company,” notes Bill VanHoose, the CFO and operations manager with Colorado multi-shop operation Aspen Auto Clinic, in regard to classroom tutorials.
Naturally, a training program should be tailored for certain positions. Technicians, for example, might receive tutorials on a shop’s preferred inspection process, and be given time to acclimate themselves to a shop floor and their new workplace’s software setup. A new service advisor likely needs training time devoted to learning a shop’s typical paperwork flow, phone system, and preferred methods for checking out customers.
Another helpful measure during the onboarding process: having written procedures for what a new hire should get accomplished in their first days on the job, such as completing all HR paperwork, point-of-sale training, and mentoring sessions with the shop foreman.
CHECK IN FREQUENTLY
Few occurrences disrupt a shop more than having an employee quit abruptly. That can happen, however, when recently hired staff members feel as if they’ve been thrown to the wolves with little guidance from supervisors. Even if a new hire feels only slightly overwhelmed, customers can sense it, and your shop’s bottom line can be effected, Brewster says.
That’s why he suggests his peers hold frequent meetings with first-year employees to “give them every tool possible.”
“Frequent meetings, one-on-one with their supervisor,” Brewster says. “Feedback, back and forth, an ongoing dialogue about what’s going on, what they’re struggling with. ‘What can I help you with?’”
In Brewster’s more than three decades as a shop operator, he’s learned that showing concern for your fledgling staff members can result in an overwhelmingly positive workforce. And, it can eliminate the anxiety of being placed in an unfamiliar workplace where a premium is placed on getting work done efficiently.
“Certainly, I’ve learned over the years,” Brewster notes, “the value of somebody spending time with the new hire, explaining the position, what’s expected, here’s how we do it, and if you run into trouble, here’s who you go to.”