Courses aren’t convenient, but they must be done.
Training is one of those things that must be done, but it’s seldom easy to do. Attending courses can put holes in your workforce, and you need to plan a strategy to ensure as little disruption as possible, especially if that instruction is spread over multiple shops.
“There’s no simple way around it,” says Rick Hatswell, President of Craftsman Collision in North Vancouver. “The others need to pick up the slack, and in most cases, we’re on flat rates throughout. Sometimes I think the technicians like it because they can pick up on the hours.”
At the company’s premium-brand stores, training can sometimes go as long as two-week courses. It affects the bottom line, and Hatswell tries to schedule training to minimize downtime. “We try to avoid having two people off at the same time. If classes overlap, we make a hard choice and say, ‘You’re going this month, and you’re going next month.’ It’s the only way we can stay in business.” In the smaller stores, technicians may only be gone one to two days, and “we wouldn’t take the time to move people from other stores (to cover it).”
Wherever possible, online training plays an important role, says Daryll O’Keefe, General Manager, Fix Automotive Network, Ontario and Manitoba. “Many people don’t realize the vast amount of content available. For example, (the training) with I-CAR to achieve Gold Status for a shop and Platinum for technicians is available online.”
Not everything can be done online, and Fix Auto is in the process of opening training centres. “All the skilled trades are hurting. Simply waiting for government and colleges to fill the void has been a poor strategy,” says O’Keefe. “We offer after-hours training, so the shop can remain running and technicians can receive training outside of regular operating hours.” In many cases, he says, repair centre owners are so busy running their shops that they need outside scheduling from training facilities to ensure as little disruption as possible.
Groups versus solo
Cross-training not only helps fill gaps when technicians are on courses, but also when they’re away on vacation or with illness, says Jeff Labanovich, General Manager, CARSTAR Canada. “You want a primary and a secondary, so if I need to load-level an employee with a particular skill set, we get other people cross-trained so that if that individual is out, the work can still go on.”
Online creates the least disruption when training doesn’t have to be hands-on, but Labanovich also believes that group training has benefits. “Typically, people learn better in a team environment, where they can glean off each other, as opposed to solo. But you have to try to achieve a work-life balance for technicians. After-hours, you’re tired. The team might like to learn on Saturday or dedicate Friday to a training day. And multi-store owners can leverage through size and scale to have enough technicians ready to qualify for in-housing training programs. ‘When it’s best for the technician’ is the best recipe for success.