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.

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