Talking Teamwork

Talking Teamwork
Having apprentices work with senior technicians can deliver outstanding long-term results. (Photos: Huw Evans)

New models provide uptick in productivity.

In the never-ending quest for improved repairs and increasing productivity, the answer may not necessarily be technology or newfangled equipment—it may just be your people.

At Budds’ Collision Service, new hires start in the parts department. “They assist our parts manager, so they’ll help order parts, check parts in, and work with the technicians to get additional parts,” explains J. R. Martino, General Manager at Budds’. “That allows the new apprentices to work individually with every single technician in the shop so that they get a feel for the culture. They’re not just working with a specific technician, they’re working with everybody.”

After the apprentice has worked in parts for a year or two, they’re teamed up with a senior technician. “One of our senior technicians will take them under their wing and teach them how to dismantle, repair and assemble a vehicle,” says Martino. “During that time, the apprentice is working under salary so I’m carrying his salary, while the technician is able to do two things at once. Now he has an apprentice—he’s logging more hours—and I’m building somebody for the future.”

Vested interest

While the senior tech is paired up with the apprentice, the apprentice has already developed a relationship with everybody in the shop from working with them in the parts room. “They all have a vested interest in him as well,” notes Martino. “The whole culture is devoted to that apprentice, to bring him along.”

Now, many of those apprentices who started in parts are on a flat rate, and a solid part of the Budd’s Collision culture. “Not only are they building relationships with everybody on the shop floor, they’re learning and understanding parts,” says Martino. “In this day and age, there’s a lot more replacing than repair, so that makes parts more important.”

He has been using this system for the past two or three years, and has found it has yielded results. “We’re rapidly growing, producing more R/Os, and we need technicians,” Martino says. “If you’re going to invest in a young technician, make sure they contribute to the culture instead of working against it.”

Also, with the younger generation tending to be more tech savvy, the combination can work to the benefit of both parties. “With the pre-scanning and the post-scanning, working with computers and recalibration, these are what the younger generation eats up,” says Martino. “The senior technicians can learn a lot from the younger techs during this process.

Understanding today’s technology is critical for all modern collision repair technicians.

Growing technicians

At CARSTAR Edmonton South, Johnny K utilizes a similar system. “The key is to find a teaching-minded technician and a student who’s willing to learn,” he says. “When you do get that combination, it’s very successful.”

The teaching technician takes time out of his day to train the junior, who’s learning, and the shop benefits because there are two technicians working on a car at the same time. “The shop assumes the cost of the student and sometimes subsidizes the trainer if there’s any slowdown,” says Johnny K. “Maybe six months or a year later, when the student starts earning hours similar to a flat rate technician, the shop gets a bit of repayment for investing all their money at the beginning.”

The shop benefits as the techs are growing with the business. “The alternative is hiring people when you’re in need, and you need them yesterday,” says Johnny K. “But when you can grow them as a student, they’re there for you. Lots of students stay with the shop that trained them for many years.”

Right now, Johnny K has 30 technicians and about five students who are at an apprentice level between several shops. “We have better luck with students coming out of improved pre-employment programs offered at technical schools,” he says. “There’s a significant, positive difference with students who spend nine months and thousands of dollars to go to school. They’re motivated.”

He has used this method with 20 different individuals, and it has worked. “The success creates stronger journeymen technicians,” Johnny K says. “Over the years, technicians are becoming scarcer, and shops need to find different ways to adapt.”

Global pay scheme

For CSN – Brimell Collision Centre, a global pay scheme that encourages teamwork saw a 20% uptick in production for the first month and a half it was in operation.

Richard Marsh, Manager of Collision Operations at CSN – Brimell Collision Centre, explains how it works. “There are three targets, and everyone in the shop gets extra pay on top of their basic salary. By the time the shop hits the third target, maybe 2,000 extra hours—everyone in the shop gets nine dollars extra.”

“From the young guys to the master technicians, now it’s in everybody’s best interest to share information.”

Marsh has found that this model encourages teamwork. “It makes the master technicians help the junior techs because everybody’s working for the same goal,” he says. “It also encourages the younger guys to step up.”

Marsh looked at a few different pay schemes, and found this concept to his liking. “When I came to this facility, it was flat rate—the techs who can produce get paid more, but it’s unproductive for a team concept,” he says.

Traditionally, in a flat rate system, there are techs that start the vehicle, take it apart, fix it, put it back together again, get it clean and ship it. “With this system, you can tweak that,” says Marsh. “You don’t have to have the same person disassembling and reassembling—if that person is tied up with a vehicle that needs to be completed in the collision centre, then someone else on the team can reassemble the vehicle. There’s more flexibility for prioritizing repairs.”

There was some adjusting to the new model. “But now,” says Marsh, “we’re in a position where our body and paint technicians have gotten involved in the production side of things by sharing information and organizing the flow of work.”

The shop’s production manager has three “pitch” meetings a day with technicians, where they share information about production and talk about goals. “This is now discussed as a group, rather than a management tool,” notes Marsh. “They’ve taken it to another level.”

“Now it’s a balance. You can have a master technician who’s very good at doing large collision repair, and the juniors, the non-master techs or the apprentices, who can work on the smaller jobs while they’re learning the trade. Everyone benefits.”

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