'Improving My Industry'

June 10, 2024
Jason LaBonte learned how to use the resources he had to offer free training to every auto tech in his community. Now, he works with other shop owners so they can do the same.

It’s one thing to enter an industry, but what impact will you leave behind for those who come after you? It’s a question that’s driven many to innovate groundbreaking concepts, and it was no different for Jason LaBonte: a lifetime enthusiast of auto repair who has only continued to let his passion for the industry inspire ways he can improve it. 

The journey toward mastering your craft is an eternal one, and what you invest into it, you’ll see return tenfold. Early in his automotive career, LaBonte was guided by mentors who underscored the value of honing your skills, namely, gaining certifications that prove you’ve trained for and understand the work you’re doing. 

LaBonte discusses with Ratchet+Wrench how this philosophy led him to establish the Free Automotive Service and Technician Training (FASTT) group, which brings high-quality, advanced training from around the country straight to shops for local techs to learn from at no cost to them. 

 

Taking Pride in Your Work 

For LaBonte, working on cars is all he’s ever known. He grew up in Massachusetts, surrounded by a family of gearheads with an affinity for motorcycles and hot rods. By the time he was in high school, he gained his first job at a local independent repair shop, where fuel was only added to his passion. 

At the age when many kids were beginning to decide what careers they wanted, LaBonte wasn’t as sure of his path until he started working at the shop. He took pride in his identity as a repair technician and decided to embrace it. 

“The only thing I've ever done for a living my entire life was work on automotive: automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, things like that. It's all I've ever done, it’s all I've ever known, it’s all I've ever trained for,” tells LaBonte. “I'm not even into sports and things like that. I'm a pretty simple guy.” 

After high school, LaBonte worked at a shop in New Hampshire called Importech, where he and owner Jason Stretch would create a bond—particularly over their dislike of the region’s climate. 

“It was kind of a dream to get away from the inclement weather,” LaBonte explains. “So we thought, ‘Why can't we just take the processes, procedures, and customer satisfaction rate that we have, and move to Southwest Florida and just kind of flourish in a different state, with beautiful weather?’” 

The two made it a reality, with Stretch purchasing an existing repair shop in Fort Myers, Florida, and establishing Legendary Automotive, with LaBonte as a part owner of the business. 

 

Training Pays 

Being an ASE Master Technician, LaBonte places a lot of value in training. Though he wanted to send his staff to attend informative events like VISION, it would have required the entire shop to shut down for a week and wasn’t feasible. He wondered what it would look like to bring that high-quality training to them, rather than them going to it. 

Using his industry connections, LaBonte reached out to trainers he thought may be interested in traveling to Florida and holding a training session in his shop—open to not only Legendary Automotive but any technicians in the area—leading to the formation of FASTT. 

The group provides shop owners with a formula for organizing training events at their own facilities and to be part of a network of other local shops that will offer similar events too. Though it does cost the shop, FASTT helps them figure out ways to alleviate the cost, such as having parts vendors pitch in to cover lunch for attendees and even travel expenses for trainers. 

“Now, is it going to be 100% free for the shop owner? Probably not. But training doesn't cost, it pays. I believe Jim Morton said that and it really stuck with me,” says LaBonte. “So if you can get the shop owner to pay the trainer, and then show him the formula of using his resources locally—like his local parts vendors and things like that to supply breakfast and lunch—it really takes the edge off, and it really takes a lot of the cost out of putting on these events.” 

 

Leaving a Legacy 

Besides the opportunity to involve an entire team of techs without the need for travel, one of the biggest benefits of the training events is the hands-on experience they can have in an actual shop, as opposed to sitting through a seminar. The environment also allows shops in the community to share problems they’re having with one another and develop solutions. 

LaBonte has always maintained a close relationship with other auto shops in the area, viewing connections with them as a chance for collaboration rather than competition. Being in Southwest Florida, there’s plenty of business to go around, and he’s much more interested in helping the repair industry as a whole. 

A shop’s techs will already likely feel obligated to attend training events funded in part by their boss, but FASTT does all it can to make the experience enjoyable for them. Rather than having them stay late after a workday, the training events are typically done on Saturdays, with breakfast and lunch offered to the techs. Not all who are invited show up, but those who do reveal to a business owner who is committed to their career. 

Throughout his career, the value of training is something LaBonte has regarded highly. He doesn’t believe in doing anything halfway and views the time put into training as a commitment and investment in something you care about. With FASTT now having expanded to both the states of Utah and Washington, the only satisfaction he gains from his work is the impact he’ll be leaving behind on the industry. 

Being a father, part of LaBonte’s motivation lies in setting an admirable example for his kids. Alongside enforcing industry standards, the community outreach LaBonte has done—such as veteran fundraisers and car care clinics for women—is all part of a motivation to show the world that the auto industry is a place for innovation and help. 

“When my kids get older, I want them to be proud to see their father doing so much for their community, when 35 or 40 years ago, what did everybody think about the mechanics, right?—the grease monkey, the guy that was trying to rip you off. Women didn't feel comfortable going to their facilities,” says LaBonte. “I'm just really trying to get rid of that old-fashioned stigma that has followed mechanics around for so many years.” 

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