One of the common gripes of workshop owners is that many of their staff don’t have the skills required to handle more complex jobs. Owners or managers typically solve this by doing the more advanced jobs themselves, which means others are left with the routine or simpler tasks.
This can only be regarded as a bandaid solution, and as technology continues to advance apace, it is inevitable that this trend cannot continue. The boss can’t be expected to handle complex jobs and the workload must be shared if the business is to remain successful into the future.
The answer seems obvious – staff skill levels have to improve. But how to begin?
Invest in your staff
In the past, investing in staff improvement has been treated suspiciously because better-trained staff will often move on, or be poached by the workshop down the road. Yes, this is often the case, but it is a fact of life in every business. It puts a greater onus on the management to devise means of retaining staff loyalty.
Research does show that staff retention is higher in those businesses that encourage skill advancement than in those that don't.
So the first step towards lifting staff skill levels is to embrace the investment strategy.
Perform an annual staff review
Annual staff reviews are normal practice in most industries, but not so much in the small-business world. However staff reviews are carried out, the aim is to come away with a list of improvement ideas covering each staff member.
Make training mandatory
This would be a big step for the retail auto repair sector, but the idea is gaining ground. For example, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence in America has instituted a national certification program that requires the passing of tests and on-the-job training, but to remain certified, participants must be retested — currently every five years — to ensure they are keeping up with ever-advancing technology. This approach not only improves skills, but can morph into a great marketing tool.
In many professions, such as law, accountancy and medicine, staff must continue to train to maintain their licenses. Why should the automotive sector be any different?
The staff review will help determine the degree of internal or external training for each team member. There are workshops in Australia that put the onus on the staff members – successful completion of regular training is a condition for receiving an annual bonus.
The big lesson learnt by business as a result of the COVID pandemic is that online training and webinars have largely taken the place of face-to-face training, meaning less time away from work. A host of new training programs for all manner of jobs are being rolled out regularly.
Give staff access to adequate technical information and equipment
Upskilling is not just confined to staff members. The onus is on the business to back up skills improvement by ensuring staff have access to appropriate information, technical data, and the best possible diagnostic and repair equipment.
There is little point investing in training courses if the business is not playing its part in investing in vehicle information and data, all of which are readily available from professional data providers.
There is no one-stop shop out there for vehicle information and data, so the business must do its research and adopt those providers that are the best fit with the type of diagnostic or repair work performed in the workshop.
While this is a cost on the business, it can be recouped in the form of data fees applied to every invoice where data or extra information was needed to complete the job.
Encourage staff to tackle more challenging work
Everyone agrees that the best way to learn is through hands-on experience while tackling more complex jobs. But there is an unfortunate downside – the time spent on the job can blow out and there is also a higher chance of a mistake being made.
When the workshop is super busy it’s logical to allocate work to the most appropriate person. It is during quiet periods that the opportunity should be seized to allocate staff to different and more challenging work.
Not only will this help grow the skill level in the workshop, but it will greatly improve job satisfaction and staff retention.
Discuss diagnostics as a team
It is common practice for the most challenging jobs to be allocated to the most skilled technician. This is great for maximising productivity in the short term, but it does nothing towards lifting the skill level of the rest of the team.
A simple way to involve all staff is to casually discuss current diagnostic jobs during toolbox meetings or morning tea breaks. The technicians working on the job can share their approach and then ask for everyone’s opinion on what the next steps should be. Not only will everyone learn from the job but sometimes it’s the left-field idea that can lead to a solution.
Once a diagnostic job is solved, ensure that the solution is discussed with the team.
The advances in vehicle technology must be matched by advances in technician skills. Those workshops that fail to raise skill levels will find the future tough while those that continually strive to upskill themselves and their team can look forward to a very rewarding and profitable future.