Send Me Your Best Student...By Mark J. Claypool, President and CEO of Mentors At Work
Looking to take the local vo-tech school's best and brightest? Fat chance - unless you've been partnering with that vo-tech school all along. If you're all take and no give, don't expect instructors to do you any favors when you suddenly need to hire.
Ring, ring, ring!
"ABC Tech Center Automotive Program, may I help you?" asks collision repair instructor Pat Peterson.
"Yes, this is Joe Smith at City Collision Center. I just had a tech quit today and have an opening. Send me your best student," says shop manager Joe.
"Joe who?" asks Pat.
"Joe Smith, you remember me. I called two years ago the last time I needed a tech."
"Oh, sure, Joe. I think I remember that. I'll let my students know you're hiring. Have a nice day," says Pat.
Pat, who could be any instructor at any local vocational-technical school or community college, hangs up and goes about his business with his students, thinking: "Yeah right, Joe. The only time I ever hear from you is when you need people.
"The only shops that get my best students are those that partner with me year round, even when they aren't hiring. My partners donate tools, paint, equipment, parts and fenders to my program, serve on my advisory committee, host open houses at their shops and come in and do demonstrations for my students here at school. Not to mention the fact that many of my former students are now working for these shops. Sorry Joe, but until you 'get it,' you won't be 'getting' any of my students."
This scenario happens practically every day across the country. Has it happened to you? Want to prevent it from happening?
If you're serious about wanting to hire the best students, then you also need to get serious about partnering with local schools.
Evaluating Local Programs
In the United States, there are somewhere between 1,200 to 1,400 schools that offer collision repair training programs. The quality of these programs varies as much as the quality of some aftermarket parts. Some are very good, even ASE certified. Some are pretty good, some are mediocre and some are very poor - a waste of taxpayer dollars and everyone's time.
ASE has a certification program for schools through its National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF). It's very hard to become certified, so the programs that have earned this ASE certification are very good. The instructors must be ASE certified, the curriculum must be up-to-date and the students must have access to appropriate tools and equipment.
If your local school's program is ASE-certified, you know that the students have been exposed to a great deal of the industry and are ready for you to take them to the next level.
There are more than 328 ASE-certified collision repair schools in the United States - approximately 203 are at the high school level, 72 are at the community college/university level, one is a private school and 52 are providing both high-school-and-college-level training. To find out if there's an ASE-certified school in your area, go to the NATEF Web site at www.natef.org.
What caliber of programs do you have in your area? As you consider this, you'll want to have a list of questions like the ones below to help you evaluate local schools:
School Prospect List Assessment
Partnering With a School
If you're fortunate enough to have a good school in your area, there are certain things you can do to maximize your success in partnering with these schools.
If you find yourself in this situation, refer to the May 2002 issue of BodyShop Business on how to build your own successful in-house mentoring or apprenticeship program (go to www.bodyshopbusiness.com, search past issues of BSB using key word, "Claypool" and read the article, "May the (Work) Force Be with You"), or contact organizations like Mentors At Work for help at www.mentorsatwork.com.
Even if you do have good schools in your area, it won't hurt to use the above resources. After all, you're still going to need to know how to teach a student (with basic skills learned in school) to become a fully functioning technician on his own or as a part of a team.
Obviously, the best-case scenario is to partner with a good school, if at all possible. These partnerships can be very successful.
To give you an idea of just how successful they can be, I spoke with several shop owners who know firsthand:
"We trained them and prepared them to be full techs on their own, but volume of work doesn't always allow us to give them all the work they want. Doing so would mean we'd have to take work away from our long-term techs, and we aren't going to do that - so we lose them to someone else who can give them the volume they desire."
Grossi's had both positive and negative experiences with new hires from his school partners. On the negative side, Grossi says that many of the students enrolled in school training programs are there mainly to get out of going to regular classes. And this is true. The average class size at your typical school training program is 20 - and only about three to five of these students will actually enter our industry with the intent of making it a long-term career.
Grossi also points out that students can go to work at some fast food restaurants and start between $8 to $10 an hour, a figure that's hard for a shop to justify for a new hire who produces very little work. However, looking at new hires as an investment needs to be the mindset - paying a little more up front in the hope that you'll see a return on your investment. If you have a system in place for taking these new hires from entry-level to skilled technicians, your chances for retention go up significantly.
Mike Anderson, owner, Wagonworks Collision, Alexandria, Va.:
"If I'm attempting to work with a specific teacher or program with no desire - for example, a teacher who's just logging time until retirement - then I'll call the school superintendent in a heartbeat," says Anderson. "My tax dollars are paying part of his salary whether I have a student in his program or not, and who else has the knowledge to keep a teacher accountable other than someone in the industry? A principal of the school isn't going to know without feedback."
With everything that Anderson is doing locally, what's he getting out of it? How are the partnerships working for him?
"Even though the vocational program is far from perfect, 12 of my current employees came out of a local program. That's where the return on investment is," he says. "It costs about $500 to run a help wanted ad, and turnover costs a lot. So invest your time and money into a local vocational program. You have much more control over how your money is used.
"Will all of the kids work out? Probably not. The ratio might only be 1 out of 20, but I'll still take those odds over a newspaper ad or the same old bad-habit techs who might apply."
Jack Lamborghini, Woburn Foreign Auto Body, Woburn, Mass.:>
Mike Molter, owner, Twin City Collision Repair, Lafayette, Ind.:
"I believe that if everyone would help educate these young people about the opportunities available in our industry and help them to get started, we'd all be better off."
The Common Denominators
Shop owners who successfully work with schools:
Ring ... Ring ... Ring!
"ABC Tech Center Automotive Program. May I help you?" asks collision repair instructor Pat Peterson. "Hey Pat, this is Joe at City Collision Center. I called last week looking for one of your students to come and work for me," says shop manager Joe Smith.
"Yes, Joe, I remember. Did anyone come and apply?" asks Pat, knowing the answer before asking the question.
"No, but maybe I'm at fault here Pat. I just read this article in BodyShop Business, and I think I've been kind of short-sighted. Do you have any room for more help on your advisory committee?" asks Joe.
"Hey," thinks Pat, "Maybe he finally gets it."