Reprinted Courtesy of Collision Repair Industry Insight
March, 2003

Introduction to Mentoring

Mark Claypool's Mentors at Work Addresses the Technician Shortage Crisis Head-On

By Mark Claypool: The President and CEO of Mentors At Work, former Executive Director of the I-CAR Education Foundation and of the NABC shares his reasons for beginning his new mentoring program AND why all shops need to take care of apprentices

When I was the Executive Director of the I-CAR Education Foundation I had the opportunity to travel around the country and visit hundreds of collision repair shops. This was one of the favorite parts of my job, meeting the individuals who make this industry so great, seeing how they run their operations, seeing if and how they partnered with schools and more. One common thread that nearly all of these shops had was their struggle with entry-level employment.

At the I-CAR Education Foundation we conducted surveys every three years (They still do.) that gave a "Snapshot of the Industry". The alarming statistics we gathered confirmed what I was witnessing, first-hand, while touring shops. Turn-over rates of technicians were high, there weren't enough students coming out of the schools to meet the industry's needs, our workforce was aging, and the pool of qualified technicians was shrinking. Put all these factors together and you have a recipe for challenging times ahead.

Even worse was the response most shops took to this challenge. They typically did one of two things, or a combination of both. They would either raid experienced technicians from each other's shops, creating a ripple effect throughout their area as one tech after another was hired away from a competitor, or they would hire someone from a school or off the street and have no system in place to train them. Both approaches are detrimental to the long-term health of the industry. Let's consider why.

Hiring technicians away from other shops does nothing to fill the technician void on the back end. As employees leave this industry altogether, to retire or to work in another industry, we only fill a percentage of those vacancies each year. Taking a quick-fix approach and putting an experienced tech in place makes sense in the short term because of productivity, but leaves one less person to work on cars in the industry.

As this cycle continues, experienced techs become all the more valuable and some are demanding signing bonuses, renegotiated contracts, extra benefits, and more. The independent contractor mentality is coming back to haunt some markets more than others and the situation is only getting worse.

Hiring new people without a system in place to properly train them is also a flawed approach, as our industry's 70 percent failure rate with new people verifies. In fact, many shops tell me that they don't even succeed 30 percent of the time with new people.

In examining why, you see that we make a terrible first impression with new hires. As an industry (the exceptions know who they are), we don't make new hires feel wanted or needed. We don't have a professional approach to training new people effectively, or moving them up the ladder if they already have some skills learned in school. Many of the guys back in the shop want nothing to do with new people so they make life so miserable for these new people that they leave. In some cases, management feels like they are held hostage by their techs. "If I force one of my techs to accept and train new people he might say forget it and leave," said one shop owner recently. "I can't afford to lose him." This fear keeps many shops doing what they have always done and adds to the problem.

Managers are often afraid to lead, to let their passion show, to educate staff about all the reasons why a full-fledged apprenticeship program should be established in their shop. So they don't rock the boat, they keep the status quo, and if they need a new person, they feel their only option is to hire an experienced tech. How many ads in the paper go unanswered? How much money flies out the window?

There are some leaders who are afraid to lead their people. However, many businesses outside of our field can view people as replaceable, because they take a proactive approach to attracting, training, and retaining new technicians, growing their own talent from the ground up. How can we let fear stop us from doing what is right? How long will we tolerate a 70 percent failure rate with human resources? Why can't this industry look beyond this coming Friday? There must be a better way.

These are all the factors that led me to found Mentors At Work. I did 18 months of research, development and field testing to create a system the auto repair industry, both on the mechanical and collision side, could follow to greatly increase their chances for success. Both Sherwin-Williams and PPG are partnering with Mentors At Work, and other industry participants are also coming on board to help solve one of the greatest challenges our industry faces.

The Mentors At Work system involves training at least three people in an individual shop to fulfill three specific roles: program coordinator (usually the owner or manager), mentor, and apprentice.

The Mentors At Work Collision Program includes:

  • Recruitment methods
  • Pre-qualification characteristics AND TESTING for each person involved
  • Ongoing, online progress review and testing for both the Mentor and Apprentice
  • Specific training for each person involved, as well as testing/verification of that information " "E"-Sortable, collision industry specific task lists for specific shop job positions
Ongoing results of the program are measured via the Internet and processed bi-weekly in a graph for immediate management use, showing the following:
  1. Numbers of units/hours/ dollars produced by the mentor/apprentice team
  2. Perceived compatibility of mentor and apprentice
  3. Perceived progress of learning the tasks
  4. Execution of the plan and the bi-weekly meeting
  5. Availability of necessary tools for the apprentice
  6. The overall satisfaction of the mentor
  7. The overall satisfaction of the apprentice
  8. The competence level of the apprentice
  9. Assistance and guidance of the program coordinator
  10. Communication between the mentor and the apprentice.
Also included are key safety/health issues for the field, recommended pay plans for mentors and apprentices, tool recommendations, best practices, and new case studies.

Where do we find new people? Too often shops think only of schools or the unemployed. If you have good schools that are providing quality training in this field, so much the better, and we have a learning module within Mentors At Work that tells you how to maximize your relationship with those schools. Instructors tell me, over and over, that they are tired of preparing students to enter this industry only to have shops do such a poor job taking these new hires to the next level that they leave our field for good. But not everyone has a good school in their area for partnering.

The unemployed may or may not be the place to find new people. Some are unemployed for good reason. Others, that we might like to employ, don't give our industry a second thought and we do a poor job of reaching out to them. But what about those who have reached the peak of their earning potential and are looking for opportunities to expand? Their futures are all limited and we have opportunities for them, if they could only learn about them.

I often hear from shop owners that young people today are lazy and don't want to work. That may be true for a percentage of them, but good kids are out there - we just need to identify them and tell them about us.

Some of the ones who don't want to work now will change their attitude when they settle down, get married, and have families. When they realize the income they currently have isn't enough to live the kind of life they want they'll go to a community college to learn a marketable skill for a new career. The average age of students in community colleges is in the upper 20s for just this reason.

This age group (late 20s) is probably the richest source of new prospects in your community, those who have matured and are looking for opportunities to learn and earn and advance themselves, to provide for their families. You, with a professional apprenticeship program in place, offer just that.

If you have a strong apprenticeship program in place, you'll see an increased retention rate, shortened learning curve, and decreased cycle time that can change the way a new person contributes to the shop. It pays a shop back over and over again, perhaps throughout the career of the new hire.

The investment is small but the potential returns are huge. New hires can produce between $75,000-150,000 in shop revenue their first year alone if handled properly.

Plan NOW for the Future

I keep hearing from shops, "But we're too busy, there's already too much to do, and the insurers are this and that." I want to hand them a cry towel.

My response is, you can't afford NOT to deal with human resources. You need people to work on cars, and the future is clear IF you do the same thing you have always done. A 70 percent failure. What will separate the best from the rest over the next decade will be their approach to human capital development. Translation… effective apprenticeship programs, either in partnership with schools or not.

Teresa Kostick, owner of All Line CARSTAR in Bolingbrook, Illinois (2002 franchise of the year) is currently using Mentors At Work. "The best part to me is what it has done for our apprentice as a human being," she said. "He's working with more confidence, which in return means he is moving in the right direction. Having a list of competencies and a sign-off process showed our apprentice what he needed to learn and motivates him to achieve."

Mike Day, Production Manager for Sports and Imports in the Atlanta area agrees. "The Mentors At Work system will be helpful in organizing ourselves for bringing new techs on, staying on task and help me function as a better administrator. The Journal of Accomplishment task list has brought to light areas where our existing techs might need some additional training and we are looking into providing training in-house to fill some of these needs."

Twelve ABRA collision repair facilities in the Atlanta market are using the Mentors At Work system to address their entry-level needs. ABRA Market Vice President, Andy Ingalls commented, "It is a system that can be duplicated to create consistency over time and if utilized, could conceivably produce a stream of trained technical workers to supplement the skill and expertise currently in the industry with our present Technicians."

According to Matt Cline, an apprentice at ABRA in Lilburn, Georgia: "Thanks to my mentor Pat Dorman, I am able to perform projects that I never thought I would have ever been able to do when I first started this job. I feel very confident in my abilities and Pat is doing a good job as my mentor." At Mentors At Work, our vision of the future is to have this industry institute the changes necessary to meet the entry-level technician challenge. That means building a game plan to follow, choosing the right people to be mentors, successfully recruiting apprentices and then having a road map to follow and a tracking system.

Whether you use Mentors At Work or develop your own mentoring procedures, take the time, learn, invest in the future through employee development, and you'll make a new future for yourself, your business and your employees.


Copyright ©2004 Mentors At Work, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved.