Columnist Luke Robinson shares his views on training in the aftermarket industry
Historically, the route to entry for our industry was an initial period of college and work placement, and, when armed with certificates, an opportunity to be a fully qualified motor vehicle technician for life.
A decade ago, I noticed a problem: my local college was still using a Pinto engine for practical lessons.
To compound the issue, the engine no longer ran as too many bolts were broken off or threads had been stripped. Not only were tomorrow’s technicians learning their trade on massively outdated technology, but they were also unable to verify their repairs. Our workshop hasn’t had an apprentice for a few years now; hopefully things have improved.
Which brings me to one of the biggest issues within our industry: the shortage of skilled labour. But why? I suspect it’s down to the following reasons:
- Long hours – a good work-life balance is a consideration for most people.
- The relatively low level of pay for the skills required.
- Difficulty in keeping track of new tech, particularly for older technicians.
- Poor working conditions – cold in winter, noisy and dirty, etc.
- Lack of opportunities for industry progression.
- More technicians leaving the trade than entering.
These reasons have left almost every garage searching for a technician and many workshop diaries booking further ahead than ever before.
We need to correct this shortage, but it’s a battle we must fight on two fronts: training for today and tomorrow.
Training for today
We need to help technicians keep up to date with current technology. I like to keep on top of things, but almost every day I discover something new about the systems on a car in our workshop. If we don’t understand how a system works, how are we going to know how to test or fix it?
If we understand more about the systems we work with, it creates a calmer atmosphere, combined with first-time fixes and a far less stressful workplace.
We work in a fast-paced industry with technological advancements seemingly happening on a daily basis, so we need to keep up to date if we want to safely and effectively repair these vehicles today while keeping our diaries full for tomorrow.
Training front of house staff to better field, qualify and book customers to create a well-balanced diary ensures a smooth work flow, less work in progress, a full diary, happy customers and happy technicians. It’s a great feeling when you learn to say no to a job that’s not right for you, rather than blindly booking and getting stressed wading through a repair.
Training for tomorrow
We need to attract new blood. While this is an issue of image that will take years to overcome, I also believe there are three core issues associated with attracting new technicians:
1. Pay and compensation – relatively low hourly rates. Can this be made more attractive with better pay, more holiday, tool allowances, etc?
2. Job satisfaction and progression opportunities – how can we offer progression in our industry? Specialising in certain subjects and becoming an expert, MOT tester, air-con specialist, etc, could be the answer.
3. Working conditions and balance – better rest rooms, ditch the late evenings or weekend work; flexibility in hours; team building days, etc.
Once we overcome these issues, we need to find a good route to train these technicians and keep them engaged. Level 3 is a great starting point for everyone, but it should be ongoing and constantly progressing. Having a chat early on, finding out where somebody wants to head and what they enjoy could be a great start in planning training and offering progression opportunities.
Becoming an expert in your field could be a great way means of progression. If you or a team member enjoy a certain type of work, becoming the go-to-person for that could be a way to really increase your efficiency and give you a real sense of job satisfaction. It’s easy to identify several big names in our industry when we think of diagnostics, DPF repairs, air-con systems and even business training. One thing these people have in common is a strong belief for training and continual personal development.
One final element of training that is often overlooked is training for a successor and planning for our exit strategy. Will we just walk away if we’re not the boss, shut the doors and sell the building/hand back the keys? What if you own the business and want it to continue while you take a step back; is there somebody who might buy the business or run it on your behalf? Either way, it’s worth looking at your team and having a chat or a plan. What extra skills would your team need without you?
Whatever way we look at training, one thing’s for sure: it’s a journey for everyone that starts on day one and should never end.
This article first appeared in Garage Wire Aftermarket magazine.
You’ll find Luke Robinson at Marchwood Motor Engineers in Folkestone, Kent.
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