AKRON (June 30, 2000)—Progressive tire dealers and service shop owners make ongoing employee education a condition of employment.
Last column, I talked about budgeting for the cost of training. For some dealerships and service shops, paying for training may be the larger issue. But for others, the biggest challenge is simply getting workers to go to school.
I could write a book about the excuses managers give me as to why their workers aren´t attending classes. There´s hunting season, fishing season, Monday night football, season tickets, kids´ activities, unavailability of a babysitter, chores at home etc.
Bosses know there´s a shortage of good technicians out there. They´ll tell me they´d rather deal with the proverbial devil they know than the devil they don´t know. So they tolerate this apathy toward training rather than risk antagonizing workers by forcing them into classes. Simply put, the inmates are running the asylum.
I´ve had the good fortune to visit many top-flight shops that share a common technique. The boss watches technician productivity and efficiency like a hawk. The renowned scientist Lord Kelvin said measurement is the basis of all knowledge. Accordingly, smart owners and managers effectively gauge their techs´ information needs to a great extent by measuring their performance on different repair jobs.
All other factors being equal, a tech needs additional training whenever his or her productivity and efficiency lags behind that of fellow workers or comparable employees at a comparable business. In fact, more and more bosses I know are joining shop owner work groups specifically so they can compare their business´ performance with that of other service shops and dealerships.
Consequently, a cocky tech can´t snow the boss by saying, "No one can do that work any quicker than I can."
Sorry, Charley. Six other shop owners in the work group showed that their techs do the same work 40 percent faster with no comebacks. The difference is that their people are heavily trained!
At some point, owners who are serious about offering automotive services have to exercise leadership by taking control of the training situation. First, call a team meeting and issue clear written directives to service personnel clarifying that indifference is no longer an excuse for skipping training classes.
Second, update and amend your employee manual with the same directive: Education is a condition of employment.
Third, use the written directive to explain in detail how the dealership or service shop will pay for child care (where needed) for employees´ kids during evening, daytime or Saturday classes. Show workers you´re concerned for their families by doing what it takes to accommodate them while mom or dad is in class learning how to be a better automotive technician.
Child care may look like a big expense at first, but consider how much more money that well-trained tech will make you over the long term. Furthermore, think about how much you can improve employee loyalty by making it as easy as possible for techs to attend training. Common sense should tell you that in a tight labor market, employee loyalty is priceless!
Fourth, clarify that workers will be given ample time to clean up, change clothes and eat dinner (where applicable) before leaving for class. Service managers will not schedule work that prevents techs from attending classes.
Fifth, always alert prospective hires to the conditions in the employee manual and give the person an estimate of how many hours per year he or she will be expected to attend classes after working hours. That way, there are no surprises later on.
Sixth, offer incentives of some kind for techs who earn the most training certificates, bring back the highest aggregate grade etc. Find as many ways as possible to recognize the education they´ve gained. Post notices of these accomplishments in the dealership newsletter and in the customer lounge.
Seventh, lay down the law. Caution techs that you are scrutinizing productivity and efficiency closely and that you won´t tolerate poor performances from people who refuse to learn. Refusing to learn is an invitation for termination.
Spell it out for them. Embracing education, however, means more earnings and more job satisfaction for everyone.