I want to use this month’s article to share my views on training. During my 30-odd years in the automotive industry I have noticed a lack of training and development of people in most workshops. This is mostly due to the short-termism of the British garage owner, whether franchised or independent. However, I also believe it’s due to an imperfect understanding of how training and development of people, in particular technical staff relates itself directly to the efficiency and profit to the business.
I have always maintained the continual training and development of all my past teams was a way of generating improvements in productivity, quality, first-time fix results, used as a unique selling point (marketing terms), motivational, retention, and the recruitment of personal just to name a few. The benefits hugely outweigh the cost.
My personal outcome has unfolded through time and has been long lasting. I continue to develop my skills and hone my knowledge, I am continually learning, always striving for perfection, even though I know I will never achieve it. That’s the attitude I carried with me in all my previous garage business and currently in my personal life.
Have you ever heard or seen statements like “fully trained technicians” or that they have a fully equipped workshop? What does this mean? How can anyone quantify ‘fully’? I certainly can’t! This is a complete myth.
You can never be fully trained in our automotive industry, modern vehicle technology continues to advance at such a pace, vehicles are becoming increasingly sophisticated animals. Technicians today are becoming increasing more like software programming engineers! Today’s technicians must posse, mechanical, diagnostic, communication skill, have solid work practices, take pride in their work and be able to continually learn.
If this is the case, it seems that nearly all franchised and independent service business employ many of these individuals. Well I care to differ, because all I see and hear up and down the automotive sector is the struggle and challenges of finding and recruiting reasonably competent technicians let alone ‘fully skilled’ ones.
As garage owners we must be honest with ourselves, look at the services we are offering in our businesses and make sure we firstly recruit individuals who have knowledge and experience in those sectors, secondly, quickly understand the strengths and weaknesses of that individual and together create a training and development plan aligned to the services and objectives of your business. Training should not be adhoc, it needs to be structured and strategic.
There has never been a better time in the independent sector to access such a wide range of training and support programs. From specific renowned diagnostic experts Frank Massey, James Dillion and Peter Coombes, parts suppliers like Andrew Page, The Parts Alliance, from our professional body the IMI, to even OE parts manufacturers like Bosch, ZF Services and Schaeff ler that open their doors to share their vast expertise and knowledge and indeed to all the trade shows and seminars hosted up and down the country throughout each year. Many of these are inexpensive in order to encourage and incentivise technicians to attend with many more being totally free. What I am saying here is that there is no excuse for not getting technicians on training courses.
At Brunswick Garage we had a philosophy of continued and training and development for our team members specifically in the area of diagnostics. 20 years ago a modern vehicle would contain severn or eight control units, now they could have anything up to 100. Our training was a combination of aftermarket training from ZF, Bosch and Schaeffler to specific brand training from BMW, Land Rover and VW-Audi direct from the mentioned academies.
However, it’s important to emphasise this was centred around the services we offered, it gave us a unique and
competitive edge within our local market place and beyond, more importantly it offered us the opportunity to charge far more than anyone else and regularly make a profit! Our annual training budget exceeded £35,000 per year which is unheard of in the independent sector.
I was proud of my team at Brunswick and what gave me immense pleasure was to see their development during the five years I had the business, the hundreds of happy customers who had their vehicles repaired correctly, promptly, and efficiently. This was possible due to our recruitment process, continued training plans and of course providing my staff with the correct tooling and equipment.
I always used to say: ‘Equipment must never be a substitute for knowledge’, it should be an aid.
For my final thought, I believe and have so for a few years, that an independent garage cannot survive offering all makes servicing and repairs, vehicle technology and a lack of skill coupled with the tooling and equipment needed makes it virtually impossible. The smart garage will specialise in a specific brand or two, or focus on a particular area on vehicle design, like steering and suspension, climate control, gearboxes, diesel or petrol engines and so on enabling the garage to charge more for that service. In turn, this will increase the opportunity to be appreciated and respected by its staff and customers and more importantly, survive in this ever changing sector.