A lot of articles about training tend to be fairly dry recitals about developing plans and issues with employees. When I was handed this assignment, I was determined to break the mold. So, in this article, although we will look at the employees, we’ll also be looking at your role in all of this. Please read on while I explain.

Step one (for me) was to talk to the techs themselves. After interviewing a number of them, a common thread emerged. They generally felt that they were not trained to a high level. Starting from their first day on the job – training was on the job, what they could absorb from fellow techs and the Tool & Equipment (T&E) folks.

Next, was to talk with owners. Eureka! They felt that the level of training was adequate and that new employees received a perfectly fine orientation session. Needless to say, there appears to be a gulf between what employees and employers report. If one assumes that even half of this difference is real, it is costing you BIG MONEY! That loss results from:

•  Quality, comebacks
•  Customer relations
•  Redoing incorrect administrative work
•  Extended repair times and lowered throughput
•  Safety-related expenses, such as a high worker comp mod rate
•  Employees who become frustrated and quit
•  Extra time in bringing new employees up to speed

While it is is impossible to accurately measure the actual loss of dollars, it does not take a lot of imagination to recognize what a lack of understanding is costing you.

“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” - Mark Twain

There are some key events that should trigger a training opportunity. These include:

•  New employee orientation and training
•  Adding new tools or equipment
•  Improving shop skills in general to reduce comebacks and increase throughput
•  Safety meetings
•  New procedures or changes in administrative policy (including hardware and software changes) that impact the shop

After lots of ideas and discussion, the major areas that need to be addressed according to interviews and research are covered in summary form to follow. Here’s where I must add my warning that I am not an attorney, nor do I wish to represent this information as either complete or authoritative. It is a place for all to begin.

Safety is one area that may be the most critical, but also frequently overlooked. Issues to address in training would include:

•  For new employees and safety refreshers: the EXITS, what to do in case of a fire or other calamity that impacts the shop (or the employee’s home for that matter). Even simple things like location and use of fire extinguishers, first aid kits, eyewash stations, etc.
•  Safe handling of customer vehicles and any shop vehicles, parking areas, locking the vehicle, etc. Where to find and policies regarding access to any vehicle keyboard. Incidentally, if you have vehicles overnight or the keys aren’t tended all of the time, a locking key box/board with check-in and check-out is called for to avoid insurance claims, thefts, lost keys
(embarrassing), etc.
•  Opening and closing the building as applicable.
•  What to do in the event of robbery, theft, and handling impaired employees and customers, etc. 
•  Handling spills and hazardous material.
•  Cleaning and keeping floors and other surfaces clean and safe.
•  Other issues as appropriate.

Receiving new tooling or equipment is always exciting. The disconnect occurs when the shop owner assumes that the vendor has met any training needs. Rarely is a quick “one and done” training program adequate. In fact, real learning takes place over time with multiple relearning events.

According to Forbes Magazine, the best way to teach any new technology, and assuming any process of any kind, is in small steps. Hold short “bench meetings” to discuss one or two functions of the new T&E at a time. Small gulps beats eating the elephant whole. In short order, the techs and equipment will be operating at their most profitable. Many shops find tech lessons held as “lunch and learn” sessions are both effective and good for shop morale. If available, take advantage of vendor or manufacturer videos or online, interactive training. A great source may be YouTube. Just search on the equipment name and you’ll no doubt find short videos that assist with training.

We’ll take a moment to consider learning styles. As you take each step, be sure to check back for understanding. If you find that employees are still confused on a training item, back up and train more. And remember, different people learn differently. The acronym VARK explains (developed by Neil Fleming):

Visual – These learners need lots of pictures, diagrams and other visual aids.

Aural – Learn primarily by hearing. The more exciting and engaging
the audio, the easier these folks will learn.

Reading and Writing – These were the note takers that filled three-ring notebooks with massive note taking. But, it was through this activity that these learners picked up new concepts.

Kinesthetic Sense - A big issue in physical training, it’s also important to realize that some people need to touch, smell and use their other physical attributes.

As with most things, people tend to be a combination of things. I am an aural and note learner, primarily. I can listen, write it down as I hear it, read the manual or book and I pretty well have the information internalized.

The most effective forms of training and learning incorporate all four learning styles in the presentation. And, for T&E, includes hands-on time. Ask the learners to explain it to each other to test for knowledge and you likely have a winner on your hands.

There’s also an acronym for us, as managers and owners, to remember in our training development process:

The ADDIE method of instructional design consists of five phases that trainers and instructional designers may use to plan and implement training. The steps in the process are Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate. Source: bizfluent

Simply put, the first step to training is to analyze the team you have. Develop an inventory of each person’s skills and weaknesses. Then, after this is gathered, design a program to address the weaknesses but also builds on the skills. There are dozens of Internet sites that discuss this process along with some really great consultants. One shop owner reported that in order to save dollars, he and a few other shop owners got together and had consultants come in, splitting the cost.

Next, develop your training program based on your inventory and design. After all of this up-front legwork is complete, begin. Then, to make sure you are getting the desired outcome for your investment and time (and as noted above) evaluate effectiveness by first checking that the material is being internalized. Assuming it is, it should begin to show up in your business metrics, such as comebacks and throughput.

What we’ve learned so far is that we need to measure, plan and implement a program targeting the specific subject we are training. In this case, we began looking at tools and equipment. For this type of training, it will be critical to involve outside experts from the vendors and manufacturers. Using this training subject as an example, I might:

1. Inventory the employee skill set relative to what I am purchasing. Understand the different learning types in my group. ID the weaknesses.

2. Working with the vendor and manufacturer for support and assistance, design a plan to provide the needed training. Maybe lunch and learns are best. Possibly bench talks. Looking at your group, design a program. Need not be a novel, just the key points.

3. Develop the plan. Using support materials provided, request (if possible) that the sales rep attend the first training to provide an overview. Then break the functions and systems down in bite-sized pieces. Research the Internet for helpful materials and videos. Get all of this on paper.

4. Implement the plan you’ve designed and developed. Following each session, have the techs “teach another tech” on what was just learned and see if they’re getting it OK. If not, head back up to inventory and design and regroup.

Seems like a lot of work. But, let’s say you’ve just spent thousands (or many) on new T&E. Then you find the comeback, throughput rates and profitability haven’t improved one bit. This is a sure sign the issue is one of training, assuming the homework was done prior to purchase. Anything you purchase regarding T&E should improve some aspect of your business. A new analyzer should improve comebacks and throughput, and thus profit. A new alignment system should do the same.

Back to T&E. The biggest mistake I found that owners make, is believing that their relatively young techs just naturally absorb technology and don’t need training. They may not admit it, and may groan and complain to impress others, but privately they may well share that they really have no clue. When you look at training, everyone should start from zero. No one gets a pass. If one of your folks is so sure of their abilities, then have them teach another. Watch the interaction. And if you find the one rare exception, you may well find a shop trainer for yourself. What a blessing that would be for you.

I would also add any computer hardware or software additions to the T&E grouping. It is critical that each person knows how to utilize the equipment to its best or you have just wasted dollars and time and gained nothing.

Lastly, for this group, you may find that some tech is defaulting back to old methods, old T&E, whatever. Techs tell us that if all else fails they go with what they know works. This should be a bright light to a training opportunity. Rest assured they won’t tell you this or admit it, but the outcome is the same.

“If I had nine hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first six sharpening my axe.” -Abraham Lincoln

Another training time should be implemented if you add a new policy, procedure or other daily function change. This may be just a quick bench talk session. Or it may need a couple of meetings. Either way, while simpler than safety or T&E to teach, too many techs reported they never got the word until there was an issue. It’s hard to blame someone for violating a procedure when you haven’t taken time to make sure everyone understands the change.

We’ll end with new employees. Training in all the above is critical to a successful launch. All too often, techs told me about how they were “thrown in the bullpen” as one put it and just expected to know everything. Instead, in the instances where time was taken to provide adequate orientation and training, right down to going through the employee manual where there was one used, the employees seemed to start and stay happier. Needless to say, if one feels set adrift, they will not likely stick around and will cost you real dollars since they’ll never reach their potential. Train new people in the manual, safety, T&E, procedures and policies and they’ll be much happier and productive out of the box.

Well, we are out of space. Summarizing what we learned, owners/managers tend to assume a lot – relative to employee understanding and readiness – to step in to make themselves and you money while assuring a happy customer. Employees are not going to raise the flag to call attention to themselves and will muddle on unhappily and never reaching their potential. The difference maker is training. Training makes you money, keeps your customer happier and improves almost any business indicator you’re following. Give it a try!