To train or not to train?

Making sure staff keep up with training will mean your business stays ahead of the curve, where it needs to be

Published:  21 February, 2019

By Andy Savva

I want to use this month’s article to share my views on training.  During my 32 years in the automotive industry I have noticed a lack of training and development of people in most aftersales businesses.
    
The reason for this, in my view, is  due to the short-termism of the British garage owner, whether they be franchised or independent. However, I also believe it’s due to an imperfect understanding of how training and development of people, in particular technical and customer-facing staff relates itself directly to the efficiency and profit of the business.

Striving for perfection
I have always maintained that the continual training and development of all my past teams was a way of generating improvements in productivity, quality, first time fix results, motivation, retention, and the recruitment of staff. This in turn was used as a unique selling point to differentiate us with from our competitors. The benefits hugely outweigh the cost.
    
I discovered at an early age in this industry that my learning experiences, which I had to fund myself, enhanced my knowledge, skills, values and behaviour. My personal outcome has unfolded through time and has been long-lasting. I continue to development my skills and hone my knowledge, I am continually learning, always striving for perfection, even thou 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 fully equipped workshop? What does this mean? How can anyone quantify “fully”? I certainly can’t. This is a myth. You can never be fully trained in our automotive industry. Modern vehicle technology continues to advance at rapid pace, and vehicles are becoming increasingly sophisticated animals. Technicians today are becoming increasing more like software programming engineers. Today’s technicians must possess  mechanical, diagnostic and communication skills, 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 beg to differ, because all I see and hear up and down the automotive sector is the struggle and challenge of finding and recruiting reasonably competent technicians, let alone “fully skilled” ones. We collectively have created this problem. For the last 30-40 years there has been a general lack of investment in people throughout the country. We have ourselves to blame and no one else.  

Structured and strategic
Firstly, 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, we need to 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 ad-hoc. It needs to be structured and strategic and indeed ongoing. It must never stop.
    
There has never been a better time in the independent sector, due to the wide availability of a broad of training and support programmes. These are available from specific renowned diagnostic experts like Frank Massey,  David Massey and James Dillion, parts suppliers like Groupauto, as well as our professional body the IMI. There is also a lot being offered by OE parts manufacturers like Schaeffler and ZF Services. They have opened their doors to share their vast expertise and knowledge. Training courses are run at all the trade shows and seminars 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 there is no excuse.

Unique and competitive
At Brunswick Garage, we had a philosophy of continued training and development for our team members specifically in the area of diagnostics. 20 years ago, a modern vehicle would consist of between seven and eight control units. Now they could have anything up 100 control units. Our training was a combination of aftermarket training from market leaders of OE parts ZF and Schaeffler to specific brand training from direct from BMW, Land Rover and VW-Audi.
    
It is important to emphasise this was centred around the services we offered. It gave us a unique and competitive edge within our local marketplace 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, and the hundreds of happy customers who had their vehicles repaired correctly, promptly and efficiently. This was only possible because 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 aide.”   
    
One last 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, etc. This enables the garage to charge more for that service, which in turn will increase the opportunity to be appreciated and respected by its staff and customers and more importantly survive in this ever-changing sector.

Related Articles

  • Get to the essentials 

    Marketing can be hard to grasp, even for the most experienced business operator. This made it an ideal topic for Andy Savva to cover as part of his 2019 training course schedule. Andy's one-day Marketing Essentials course provides an overview of what marketing actually is, looks at key approaches and how to apply them to a garage business.
        
    Aftermarket sat in on a sold-out session held in Crawley in February. In front of a packed room, filled with garages owners and staff, Andy dispelled some myths and misconceptions surrounding the discipline: "Marketing is one of the most misunderstood functions found in business. Whatever the reasons for any negative image that marketing may have, it is essential to realise that marketing is vital to ensure the survival and growth of any business. Marketing cannot be ignored and needs to be a part of the culture of any successful organisation.
        
    "Marketing affects everyone. We are all consumers. Most businesses depend on marketing to provide an understanding of the marketplace, to ensure their products and services satisfy the needs of customers, and that they are competing effectively."
        
    Despite running great businesses, Andy has found that garage owners often struggle when it comes to marketing: "Understanding customers and anticipating their requirements is a core theme of effective marketing, yet this is somewhat difficult for garages to fully get to grips with. So too is understanding general market trends and developments that may affect both customers views and the activities of businesses in the aftermarket repair sector. You must also be aware that a business does not have the marketplace to itself. There are always direct competitors, new entrants and indirect challengers.”
        
    Andy added: "Marketing should concern everybody in a business as it sets the context in which sales can take place. Whatever your role, you play a part in setting that context."

    Interaction
    As Andy got into the meat of the marketing matter, he led the delegates through what marketing is, and how they need to approach it and enact effective marketing within their businesses. Even the most experienced business owners and managers can get a little confused when asked to distinguish between marketing, advertising and sales. After asking attendees to pick where they would plant the marketing flag, with a few near misses along the way, Andy went through the specifics:
        
    "Marketing is a systematic approach aimed at bringing buyers and sellers together for the benefit of both. Many people confuse selling and advertising with marketing but they are not the same. Marketing is about promoting goods and services that both satisfy customers and also bring profits to the business.
         
    "Selling is the interaction that takes place on a personal level with potential customers. Marketing on the other hand is aimed at generating those potential customers in the first place. Many people confuse selling and advertising with marketing but they are not the same. Advertising is part of the marketing function, but never the other way around."
        
    For marketing to succeed, there needs to  be a goal and a way of achieving it, which Andy went on to cover: "Any marketing campaign needs to have a clear focus and this is why it is so important to make the right choices. Will the business compete across the entire market, or only certain parts? It is also a good idea to ensure all employees know the strategies being adopted, so that everyone works together to achieve the same goals." Andy then asked a question of the group: "Do you know what your garage business is trying to achieve and how it is trying to achieve it? In most cases the answer is no."
        
    The goal influences the method, and vice versa. From this point, Andy covered the classic four Ps of marketing – product, price, place and promotion – and went from there to the more recent extended marketing mix, incorporating people, process and physical evidence. Beyond this he laid out transactional marketing, which is sales-focused, and relationship marketing, which takes a much broader view including customer service, and quality presentation and results.
        
    Next he took on the thorny issue of branding as part of the marketing strategy, and why a strong brand is so important for recognition, financial value, motivation and loyalty. All of that was just the pre-lunch session. After lunch, Andy went into even greater detail on areas such as the marketing triangle, SMART objectives and SWOT analysis. It's heady stuff, but Andy made it approachable and applicable to the sector.

    Inspirational
    Those in attendance found a lot to take away from the day. Dani Comber from Thrussington Garage in East Goscote, near Leicester said: "I find Andy really inspirational. I think he's brilliant. He can come and work at our garage." Commenting on what she was learning about marketing from the day, Dani said it showed the gap between what they were doing at present, and what they should be doing: "I find it demotivating and motivating at the same time. You want to do everything, you've got the intention to do it, but you've not done it. On the other hand you are motivated because you see what you can do."
        
    Elisa Bramall from Scantec Automotive from Hailsham, East Sussex said: "I have attended several training courses with Andy. I only have good things to say about him of course. His passion being the main thing, and that he says it how it is. No beating around the bush. A lot of his values we stand by as well, i.e use of OE parts, tools and genuine equipment. When you attend his training courses, it aligns with what we want to achieve. With all of his experience, if you think you know it all you certainly don't."
        
    Tina Drayson, Operations Manager at CCM Garage, based in West Sussex and Surrey said: "I have done Andy's financial course before. It is phenomenal. I have learned so much from it. It has certainly changed the way we are doing our business. I am hoping that today with the marketing essentials will give us even more direction going forward."
        
    Terry Roberts, owner at  Witham Motor Company in Witham, Essex said: "I have just become a RAC approved garage in the last few weeks, so I am looking at changing my brand. I am really enjoying it. I am learning a lot and have picked up a lot of things."
        
    Commenting on what he was getting from the course, Billy from  Beacon Hill Garage in Hindhead, Surrey said: "It just hammers home that if your standards slip, and your marketing as well, and you take your eye off the ball, things will go wrong. I will be going back to give a few people a kick up the backside to bring standards back up. "
        
    Brothers Mahesh Vekaria and Pravin Patel own a garage each in Harrow. Mahesh, owner of Cardoc said: "What have I learned from Andy today so far? It has refocused and re-energised my enthusiasm for marketing. We do a fair bit of marketing, but coming today, you see a different angle to it."
        
    Pravin, proprietor at Harrow Service Centre, observed: "Today has been interesting. I have learned a lot. In a sense we already do a bit of marketing, but to understand what it really does mean and the ways we are doing it – is it right or wrong? – is really useful. It is something to implement when we go back to work."
        
    In that the pair are brothers and are based just half a mile apart, Aftermarket was curious as to who would get back and implement new marketing initiatives first. "I would say that I would," said Mahesh. Pravin agreed: "Yes  he would, definitely, having said that, he looks after my marketing for my garage as well. So he has double the work really."

    Information
    Edward Cockhill of Uckfield Motor Services in Uckfield East Sussex observed: "It is quite an eye-opener. I saw marketing as just advertising, whereas it is really the whole perception of my company. There is a lot of cogs that are going to be turning when I get home. "
        
    Peter Bedford of GT One Ltd in Chertsey, Surrey said: "We are an independent Porsche specialist. Our business is in need of a bit of a review in its marketing ideas, and we are looking to freshen it up. I have come along to see another angle of it. Some things I think I know and we have applied. Some I know and we have not applied, so you need a kick up the backside. Some things are brand new. On the whole it is brilliant."
        
    Cieran Larkin from Larkin Automotive in Dublin commented: "It is good to get marketing training from a professional who has been in the garage business as opposed to someone who is dealing with generic marketing. Andy's experience is brilliant in that way."
        
    Nick Robinson from Marchwoods in Folkestone had been to Andy's courses previously and was back for more: "I came to Andy's events last year for garage financial understanding and customer excellence. They were real eye-openers so I have come back for another one. I was badgering him earlier to see what is coming up next. I will be at that one as well!"
        
    Meanwhile, for Edward from Swanley Garage in Swanley, it was his first time: "This is the first one I have been to. It is really good. It is about getting all the information and having the guts to go out and do it. We are all guilty of not doing marketing properly, it is about taking that jump to rebrand yourself or say right we are not doing that any more, or we are not doing cut price work, or we are not going to let the customers bargain with us any more, and seeing where it takes you."

  • The Garage Inspector - Training dates 

    The Garage Inspector a.k.a industry consultant Andy Savva has announced a number of one-day business training course dates.

  • JLM Academy launches with DPF Doctor founder Darren Darling at the helm 

    The JLM Academy officially opened its doors on Saturday (20 July). The brainchild of Darren Darling, founder of The DPF Doctor Network, the new Academy is fielding a top-drawer roster of industry trainers, including Darren and Andy Savva, a.k.a The Garage Inspector.

  • Future-proofed: Training technicians for the long-term  

    While experience in the day-to-day activities of a workshop is vital in building a technician’s knowledge and skills, it is only one piece of the puzzle. For example, a technician who has been servicing solely petrol and diesel vehicles for the past 15 years will unlikely be able to help a customer with a hybrid or electric vehicle. What’s more, given the safety concerns involved, it would be dangerous for them to try. What about servicing the latest safety-critical systems, like ADAS? Certainly not a worthwhile risk without the appropriate knowledge or equipment.

    Systematic training in new technologies is, therefore, the best way to ensure a workshop will continue to successfully serve aftermarket customers, even in times of rapid change.

    “The Auto Education Academy portal from Euro Car Parts brings IMI-approved online and practical courses together with a database of over 500,000 resolved technical queries, with an average of 600 new repairs added daily,” observed Adam White, Workshop Solutions Director at Euro Car Parts. “It provides technicians with one of the largest technical training and knowledge resources in the independent aftermarket.”

    “Training is an integral part of ongoing success in this industry,” continued Adam. “It allows technicians to further their career and workshop owners to develop a highly-skilled team of professionals.”

    While many would agree to education’s importance in principle, it can be difficult to carry out a training plan and accept lost revenue in the short-term. Online learning can provide the flexibility to bridge that gap.

    “Repairers can login to their own skills portal to view the content of more than 75 different courses, registering and booking their place on training workshops all over the country at the click of a button,” said Adam. “They can also assess their strengths and identify weaknesses in nine key areas: Petrol engines, diesel engines, engine management and emissions, vehicle electronics, hybrid and electric cars, brakes, powertrain, tyres, steering and suspension, as well as air-conditioning.

    “Results are automatically added to an interactive skills diagram, illustrating a repairer’s current skillset and enabling them to set their own training and development targets. Where gaps exist, the learner management system intuitively recommends Auto Education courses that can help increase knowledge in those areas.”

    Invaluable
    “The platform has been designed so that anybody can complete a skills overview,” pointed out Adam. “This makes the tool invaluable to workshop managers looking to monitor staff skillsets or test potential hires. Our new learning portal represents a significant investment by Euro Car Parts in helping to nurture the knowledge and skills of technicians across the country.
    “As with any profession, it is important for technicians to continue professional development throughout their career. It is also the role of managers to identify gaps in their team and commit staff to training that will address shortcomings in the workshop’s capabilities. For more immediate solutions, the programme features a technical helpline that provides fast responses to troubleshooting, repair, diagnostics and technical information queries on any vehicle, from any manufacturer.”
    Adam concluded: “For those with an eagerness to learn and evolve, it is an exciting era for the independent aftermarket. “We consider the success of technicians and independent workshops as the foundation of our industry and believe nothing plays a greater role, or makes more of an impact, than education.”

  • Attitudes to training: Autoinform-ed  

    I have had a few weeks to reflect on an incredible Autoinform Live technical weekend in Cork Ireland. This took place at the premises of J&S Automotive on Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 April. My first thoughts, thanks, and appreciation must go to our hosts, the guest presenters, delegates, and contributing organisations which made this event possible.
    Specifically focusing on our hosts, J&S Automotive were so accommodating, words alone would not do their contribution justice. To dismantle their warehouse, provide catering and the most impressive quality support and welcome was really going above and beyond.

    Sharing knowledge
    Following the two days, I have become reflective about the way technicians approach training worldwide. I have been involved in the motor I industry for well over 50 years, with around 35 years providing training. I have and still travel the globe meeting and sharing knowledge. Please note the sharing expression, as I feel privileged to have met so many dedicated technicians from a variety of backgrounds. I have witnessed over the years great change in attitude and commitment from independent technicians and garage owners.

    I also have noted a big discrepancy in commitment from some UK I dependants which contrast with overseas counterparts.
    There is I believe a complacency in attitude to the future challenges. One recent illustration comes to mind. While in Australia last October, an individual from Perth heard on the kangaroo vine that a series of seminars was taking place in Sydney. So he could attend, he closed his business on Wednesday night with 24 hours notice, booked a eight hour flight and joined the event for the Saturday and Sunday.

    Meanwhile, a little near home, I have had cancellations from delegates unwilling to travel 10-15 miles due to unforeseen last-minute changes. I hope they are reading this!

    Threats and challenges
    So where does this leave our industry and what are the immediate threats and challenges? In my view, these can be summed up as ignorance, arrogance, complacency, and the biggest of all; technical and political evolution.

    I don’t share the euphoria of hybrid, battery, or autonomous vehicles, however I do accept the impact these will have in the short-lived near-future. In my opinion two evolutionary changes will have a long lasting influence. These are hydrogen cell technology, and cradle-to-grave vehicle utilisation. Why own a vehicle when for a relatively small affordable rental you could use and return the vehicle in exchange for a new model after two years. No depreciation, no maintenance, no trade in. As for the other aforementioned technologies, less wear, less maintenance, less reliance on the independent garage sector.

    Back to boots on the ground: The technical evolution has quite literally been breath-taking. This has in the short term presented incredible opportunities for aggressive technical minded business owners and technicians. With opportunity comes challenge, investment and training. Complex vehicle systems require a comprehensive sound knowledge and infrastructure to provide a competitive service against the dealership network. Many garages out there are currently servicing and repairing systems without adequate knowledge or technical hardware to comply with original build spec requirements. Please do not take that comment as a cheap swipe without redress but a genuine helpful comment in realisation by how much this industry has changed. In comparison with other less technical trades, controlled by rigorous legislation we have been left to our own devices so far.

    Confident system diagnosis
    I was among the presenters at Autoinform Live. Obviously what I have just gone through is a very broad analysis, so for my segment I concentrated on more specific area. With this in mind, my presentation at the event focused on using available technology to combat the ever increasing difficulties in confident systems diagnosis. In particular, I focused on engine efficiency, pumping losses, and very accurate assent of valve piston relationship using a pressure transducer while the engine is running. I then expanded on cylinder balance using g vibration analysis.

    Succeeding
    If you are running a business, you will doubtlessly be interested in getting into the next era, but this may require some adaptation on your part. You also need to put yourself in the correct area. Like the dinosaurs before us, there is an extinction zone out there and the asteroid will hit our I industry sooner than you might like or think. If you are in the 10 mile radius training mindset then you really do need to lift you focus on the horizon or possibly to those businesses you resent or admire who are succeeding in your area. If you are one of those success stories then you already know me and are attending Autoinform events or something similar.


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