AKRON (June 24, 2002)—A tire dealer or service shop owner needn´t be a detective to know when his or her technicians need additional training.
If he or she is alert, experience shows that needy techs always telegraph the same set of clues. Dealers who offer automotive services should watch for the following signs.
Before I continue, I will readily admit that this sounds like a self-serving topic for a guy (me) who offers technical training. That said, why is it such a chore to get some technicians to get ASE certified? Why is it so tough to get some of them to go to class?
Are all-or most-training classes boring or useless? No, there are lots of solid training available. Are all technicians too tired or too busy to attend evening or weekend classes? No, most instructors I know would agree that there´s a core of interested people who almost always attend and participate. However, the ``regulars´´ usually aren´t the ones we really need to motivate because they´re already in class.
More than ever, I´m convinced the boss has to set the tone for training. I´ll continue emphasizing this point it until the day when $100,000-per-year technicians are commonplace in this industry.
Too often, owners and managers I meet seem unsure as to whether or not their techs should be in class. To no one´s surprise, these same techs avoid anything that sounds like formal assessment testing. Remember, owners and managers, that there´s more than one way to ``assess´´ a technician.
First, consider the worker´s attitude. For example, it´s a fact of life that many tire dealerships and service shops employ techs who are more generalists than specialists. As a result, the service manager assigns work on a rotation of some kind so that one tech isn´t stuck with all the electrical work, driveability diagnoses etc.
OK, your first ``assessment´´ clue is to watch employee reaction when work is assigned on this rotation. The ones who consistently complain about being assigned certain types of work typically need extra training in that kind of work. Note that this isn´t just a car here and a car there. No, this guy wails about every electrical or driveability ticket he´s handed. To me, this is a telltale sign that he lacks the confidence to do the work. Training breeds confidence.
Second, bosses who monitor technician efficiency will see definite trends evolve. If you recall from previous columns, efficiency is the ratio of labor hours charged to the time spent fixing the vehicle. If it takes a tech an hour to fix a problem and the dealership actually collects an hour´s labor for that work, the tech was 100-percent efficient on that job.
When you track tech efficiency over a period of time, you´ll see clear trends emerge that far outweigh workers´ complaints about individual bastard cases or problem vehicles. Experience shows that techs who truly need training in a particular area show consistently poor efficiency in that kind of repair work.
Third, dealers can informally assess their techs by talking to fellow dealers. For example, capitalize on relationships you´ve built through your trade association to find out how other service departments handle various tasks. Typically a fellow dealer who´s successful will confirm that, thanks to proper training, his techs are conquering the same tasks your staff loathes!
Fourth, don´t encourage workers to take ASE tests-require them to do it. In fact, pay them to take the tests and then check the scores. When a tech flunks an ASE test in a given area, it´s yet another clue reinforcing the need for specific training.
Fifth, informally assess your crew and individual workers by the number of needless warranty returns they generate. All too often I hear bosses moan that their techs aren´t interested in basic electrical training. Meanwhile, this shop´s suppliers show you cold, hard numbers indicating that 25 to 40 percent of the electrical parts they purchase are returned as defective. No way, Jose!
Remember that experience shows it´s a set of clues rather than just one incident that flag a need for training. Those who dedicate the time to tracking these clues will agree with me that the process is an informative, eye-opening one. OK, dealers, don the Sherlock Holmes hat and get to work.