In my many years in the retreading industry, I have found that shop employees often receive little formal training in the art of tire retreading or repairing. For the most part, new employees have had to pick up their skills as best they could through on-the-job experience.
Rather than use supplier training centers, which would require employees to take time off from work for training, the customary approach has been: ``Watch old Tom for a couple of days. He'll show you how it's done.''
The only problem with this is that old Tom likely never had any formal training, either.
In contrast, a tire repairman in Germany does not actually work on tires until he has completed a two-week training program and earned the title of ``Tire Repairer.'' At this stage he may know more about his job than many U.S. tire shop employees ever learn.
In addition, every German retread plant must be managed by a ``Master Vulcanizer,'' one who was formally trained in one of the country's approved vocational centers for retreading and repairing.
This apprentice system has been in effect for decades and is an outgrowth of the guild system that began in Central Europe centuries ago. With the Clinton administration seeking ways to make the American labor force more competitive, various public agencies are studying Germany's approach.
Most tire specialists invest far too little time, money and effort in hiring, training and motivating employees. Manpower usually is the most costly element of a business, and the optimum use of personnel-via training in knowledge, attitude and effectiveness-can only contribute to higher profits.
It isn't always possible to trace a direct dollars-and-cents relationship between profit and investment in training, but the qualitative advantages often are easy to identify. Training, in this case, becomes an investment in product.
Technical training methods have now evolved to a fairly
sophisticated level, and training programs offered by industry suppliers now involve more than listening to lectures.
Suppliers have spent vast sums in response to demands from customers, both in the tire trade and commercial operators, for help with personnel training and with business practices in general.
The key to making training pay off is knowing what you want the trainees to be able to do when they have completed the program. You must analyze the job to be done and then spell out the knowledge and skills needed to do it.
It also is important to recognize that different people may have different learning needs. A seasoned shop employee coming from a different organization may not benefit from a training program designed for entry-level people just coming into the work force.
It's not unusual these days to hear tire dealers and retreaders bemoaning how difficult it is to find competent help.
The fact is, though, that most can usually find an adequate supply of ``warm bodies'' for low-paying jobs. It's just that these applicants tend to be minimally quali-fied, entry-level people-including recent immigrants, high school drop-outs, recent high school graduates, college students in need of part-time work and older people whose lack of education, job skills and/or self-esteem have prevented them from building careers.
Three out of four young Americans never get a college degree, and the schooling they do receive does not prepare them well for the world of work. These youngsters may be experts at video games and connoisseurs of MTV, but many of them know precious little about anything else, rendering them inept at the nearly lifelong task of finding and holding a job.
They receive little guidance on how to move into a career that can support a family. Their reading, writing, math and communication skills are inadequate for the demands of today's employers.
In a job market in which college graduates are having a harder and harder time finding employment and in which victims of corporate downsizing-both blue- and white-collar workers-are having to settle for less, these ill-prepared, entry-level candidates are the bottom feeders. That's why they're beating on your door.
Let's be honest: No one grows up with starry-eyed notions of one day working in a tire shop. When you advertise for an entry-level position as a tire buster, repairer or retread shop worker, the applicants are likely to be people who didn't have a lot of other options.
That being the case, the matter of training is of even greater importance. Newcomers to the industry need hands-on training. And long-term employees can use refresher courses from time to time.
Then, too, the lowest-paid people in an organization often occupy positions that make them the first point of contact with a customer. The customer's impression of the company will be shaped by the nature of that contact.
Bearing this in mind, an investment in training becomes a means of establishing a competitive edge in an industry where many firms are offering what is basically the same product.
Certainly, you want the best person for any job, and the most qualified. But if those aren't the people who are applying, a good training program, combined with a good work environment, can make a new hire the best person for the job, after the fact.