AKRON (Jan. 5, 2004) — Concerned and conscientious tire dealers should dedicate time to improving the quality of local automotive educational programs. A relatively small amount of time spent on this endeavor will reap big dividends in the long run.
Everywhere I travel, I meet dealers and service shop owners who bemoan the quality of prospective hires local schools produce. To hear some bosses and managers carry on about this topic, you'd think this complaining was our national pastime. For the nth time, I respond by asking why you're complaining to me about it. If you're unhappy with the quality of the local schools' output, you have to tell the appropriate administrators about it instead of me.
What's more, the time to communicate your feelings clearly and emphatically is right now. If making this a New Year's resolution will provide ample motivation, then make it a resolution. Some people feign interest in improving education with lip service and clever slogans such as, “We'll leave no child behind.” But experience shows that improving local education at any level and in any curricula requires commitment and participation.
Simply put, it takes work and that work will very likely detract from golf time, fishing, hunting, etc. Instead of thinking of it as detracting from your fun, call it a critical re-deployment of your valuable time.
First, decide where you should focus your time and energy. Which high-school and/or post-secondary automotive training programs are closest to your business? Concentrating on improving these programs makes sense because its graduates are logistically good prospects for your service department. Telephone these schools and find out who's directly in charge of the automotive training programs. If you get this person's voice mail, leave a detailed message explaining that you want to join the school's advisory committee.
As a rule, school administrators are thrilled when local trade persons such as you volunteer for such a committee. As a rule, the advisory committee participation is the single most-direct path to influencing the quality of any automotive training program. After all, when you think about it, you're more than a taxpayer footing the bill for the program. As a tire dealer or service shop owner, you're the ultimate customer of that vocational program—your business is the consumer that “consumes” automotive technician graduates from that school.
You better believe that a local school doesn't want its ultimate consumers complaining to legislators that their tax dollars are being wasted on graduates who aren't worth hiring.
Next, get acquainted with the automotive program and its staff. Then professionally and impartially assess what you would change to improve the program. Improve means turning out graduates who are better prepared for the working world than those the school's been sending you.
Carefully prioritize your recommendations. For instance, new-age interactive electronic training aids are cool, but several safe, reliable lifts and air tools may make the most immediate impact on classes.
Where appropriate, lasso some colleagues from your neighborhood—fellow tire dealers and service shop owners—for service on the advisory committee. The more the merrier, especially in situations where committee participation is nearly nonexistent. Besides, the more like-minded industry people you get on the committee, the more likely you are to impress your real-world needs upon the school's teachers and administrators.
One colleague of mine puts these efforts under an umbrella heading of “always inspecting what you expect.” In other words, those who expect excellence from an automotive training program may have to literally define excellence for the people running that program.
The path to excellence demands more than wielding sledgehammer techniques on 1975 classroom vehicles. It demands more than spending countless hours practicing machine shop procedures a typical technician never uses in general automotive repair.
Keeping an eye on a school's activities and curricula certainly isn't as much fun as your other activities. But it can be incredibly rewarding—both personally and professionally. Furthermore, it's extremely self-serving because it increases the chances of getting better employees into your service department.
If more bosses were more de-manding of the local schools, think how much better off the service industry would be today.