Unless you have an unending number of amazing technicians wandering in your shop looking for work, and who want to work for you, this article is very important to your future and that of our industry! It’s all about how you can improve your current talent pool while providing specific career paths, recruiting and growth opportunities for the techs in your shop. And, it is that group who will in great part determine your profitability, customer satisfaction, value of your shop some day when you want out and, simply, your stress and enjoyment levels.

OK, before we go further, let’s deal with one preconceived notion that I have heard over the years. Developing people, techs, service writers, whomever, makes us all money, even if they leave our shop. I have had folks tell me that they didn’t want to develop and invest in someone “because they get good, and leave.” Well, the sarcastic me would ask if maybe it is the very reason you won’t invest in them that causes them to leave. Might want to take a long, hard look in a mirror. But then, those folks aren’t likely reading this article since they don’t care enough to take the time to read the magazine, and are happy running mediocre shops. I won’t go there.

With all of that as background, I am the first to say education is the biggest step for the new tech before they hit your door. After that, once you decide to hire them, there is a one word answer to taking them from a green, unproductive tech to superstar in a hurry: MENTORSHIP! That’s it. We’ve discussed this a bit in the past. But as I talk to more and more shops, and based on a statistically insignificant small sample survey I just completed for this article, shops with mentorship programs were more productive, easier to manage, more profitable and enjoyed a higher growth rate with lower comeback figures.

According to the Automotive Sector Council of Nova Scotia in Canada, the benefits to you, the employer, of a well-designed mentorship program include, but are not limited to:

• Vastly improved throughput, lowered comebacks and higher productivity, with greater profitability

• Quicker learning curve for new techs

• Great customer relations

• Employees stay longer, are more content and enjoy their work

Nothing wrong with anything on that list for sure. And, there are a lot of benefits to you that result in a better shop and more money in your pockets and those of your team.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”  – Benjamin Franklin

Benefits for the tech being mentored:

• They learn the “rules of the shop” much faster

• They feel more comfortable and able to get help as needed

• They are happier in their job and feel a part of your team much faster

• They will learn real world workarounds and “hacks” that greatly help their school knowledge and prior experience

“No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it.” – Peter F. Drucker

And before we forget the mentor, there are benefits for them as well:

• They feel valued and respected, especially as they reach the latter part of their career.

• They learn new tricks and processes using new equipment on newer systems from the younger tech.

• Older techs like to take younger people “under their wing” and share what they know.

• It gives the mentor a greater reason for staying at your shop, using good habits as an example and will quite likely become more productive.

• They have someone to assist with the jobs that might tax their physical abilities or health issues.

In short, according to every report I researched, every service or shop manager already employing mentoring who I interviewed, and in all my discussions with the techs themselves – with a solid well planned mentorship program, everybody wins. And, the costs are financial. It is true that, at the very first, there may be some lost productivity for the older tech. However, that is an issue quickly erased and the bigger benefits tend to kick in very quickly. Short-term expense for a long-term payback!

Starting a mentoring program might be the closest you'll ever get to make a business decision that has exclusively positive impact. – Inc. Magazine

So, now that we’ve discussed the many benefits of mentorship in your shop, I suspect you might be more than a little interested in how to set up a program right away. It’s easier than you think, though it takes some creativity and honest assessment of the people strengths in your team. One way to guarantee failure is to have somebody with a poor attitude teach it to someone else, especially a new person.

There are some well understood steps to take in designing a mentorship program. We’ll quickly summarize each:

• The first step is to plan, design and create. According to many I interviewed, those who had negative experiences tended to report that they did not plan enough or properly. For example, which of your crew would be a good mentor? Write down your expectations of both the mentor and the younger tech. It is critical to be able to define success so you know it when you see it, or are able to make course corrections as you go along. And it will be important to design some type of additional compensation for the mentor to replace lost income while mentoring, and a ladder of wage improvements for the tech relative to productivity and comebacks. Finally, lay out a curriculum that you can share with all involved.

• Next, hold a meeting with the entire team. Explain what you are implementing, why and how. No need to bring up compensation. Look for questions or negative responses. Let all know that you will consider them as a mentor or the mentored, just see you after the meeting. May be interesting to see who comes forward!

• The third step is to approach the person chosen as the mentor. Important to walk before you run with this, one person only in the beginning. You may wish to save them for the next new hire, or utilize them right away if you have someone in the shop who will benefit now. In any event, have this meeting in private, out of earshot of your other employees. Allow the person to accept the assignment or turn it down. Make sure they understand there will be no hard feelings if they don’t participate.

• Keep in mind that even if it’s just you and a young tech, it’s perfectly fine for you to mentor that tech!

• Sit down every couple of weeks with the mentoring team and review the program objectives, solicit input and suggestions, and reestablish the goals for the next two weeks. Also, as you receive suggestions and input, discuss how to implement them. If it’s something you can accommodate right away, do so. If it will take time or you want time to think, establish a future meeting to discuss the matter. Just be sure to recognize the input. And, little is as bad as promising a change or improvement and not carrying through. So, it’s critical to promise and carry out the promise.

• As you meet with success, it will be time to begin bringing on additional teams. This is especially true if you bring on a younger, newer tech.

I would also suggest that you keep track of your shop performance parameters. They should improve. Areas such as productivity, throughput, profitability, revenue and comebacks should be watched. If there is no improvement, look at your program design and review the people involved. You may find the answer there. Otherwise, you may be overcompensating or the teams aren’t meeting their goals.

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction. – John C. Crosby

Lastly, mentors are only as good as their knowledge base. As a result, one thing to consider in your plan and budget is training for your mentor. It’s even better if the mentoring team can attend and participate together. As mentioned in the past, consider tech schools, equipment manufacturers, part suppliers and others. Also, look at the myriad of online programs. Explain you are sponsoring a mentoring program and I suspect that any training material’s supplier will be very pleased to accommodate and support in any way possible.

Mentoring done right almost always makes money for you. This is the year to at least seriously consider your own program!

One more thing on health care

As a final report, as promised in an earlier article, have been carefully watching the entire health care and insurance programs being thrown about Congress. As of this writing, we are at a hold. After talking with people who are “in the know,” it appears that none of the proposals may make it far enough to get a serious vote.

To date there was a Senate program offered. It has stalled. The House did approve their version of the plan, but it died on the way over to the Senate. As a bit of a “Hail Mary” pass, a vote to repeal now and design a replacement later also met a fatal end. In this case it was D.O.A. because a few Republican Senators bailed on a repeal only vote.

At the state level we now have many counties with no ACA “Obamacare” insurance company. The original group has all pulled out. Some 1,300-plus counties, per CNBC in June, have only one option available. And many of the remaining plans are reporting increases of 20%-plus. So, doing nothing appears to be no option!

The future? Who knows? We have hundreds of people in Congress who need to decide on a plan that all can support at the same time. Seems like right now that’s a bit like herding cats. And there is little doubt we’ll see more tweaking with executive orders or agency changes as it is allowed within the law.

This is a good time for all of us as small businesses to make our voices heard alongside the many industry associations with our senators and representatives. Write or hit the phones unless you have an unlimited pot of money for health insurance!