There is a classic business cliché that has been around for a while. “What if we train them and they leave?” This is countered with, “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

The automotive repair business is like many other types of businesses. Technology is ever increasing and, with it, comes the requirement for regular training. A certain level of training is needed just to maintain the existing condition. More training is needed if you want to improve, grow and scale your business. It has to be the right training delivered to people who truly want to improve themselves and are driven to succeed. This may seem like quite the challenge but it is necessary. Shops that are not training will fall by the wayside. Today’s “A” tech will be a “B” tech in a year or two. Shops that train and grow will dominate the market and shops that do not will become obsolete. Creating a shop culture of continuous learning and improvement will insure your future success.

I recently spoke with a shop owner about training. He told me that he wants to get the training that he knows his team needs, just as soon as the shop reaches the level where he can afford it. This is a common idea among shop owners. The fact is we must first invest in training before we can reap the rewards. Think you can’t afford it? Think again. The initial investment can be relatively easy to achieve. Begin with a training budget. Let’s say you want to invest $500 per month in training. If you have three technicians producing eight hours per day and an average month has 22 working days. You are producing 528 hours per month. Increase your labor rate by just a dollar per hour and you will have $528 per month in your training budget. This will get the ball rolling. Treat this money as sacred and only spend it on training. Your training investment will pay great dividends in the future.

Now that there is money for training, begin with a plan. Many owners have never had any formal business or leadership training. There must be a solid foundation. This should begin with the owner. You need to fill in the gaps in your own skill set, not as a technician, but as the owner and leader of your business. You don’t know what you don’t know, as the old saying goes. You may consider getting a business consultant to give you a fresh perspective. Share your future vision for your shop and develop a step-by-step plan to achieve it. Another thing to consider is to begin with a leadership course. There are several that could be an excellent starting point to get you going in the right direction. As you get some training, you will begin to see what you need to improve on and where you are strong. You will begin to establish the necessary foundation for future success. Just as important is the fact that you are leading by example. This is the first step in developing a learning culture in your shop. All real personal and professional growth happens when you push yourself out of your comfort zone and into what challenges you. Step into the leadership role and take your company toward your vision of success.

Develop a training program for everyone on your team. There are assessments you can buy online that will tell you exactly what your technicians and service advisers are good at and where they need improvement. Consider your future vision of your shop, what skills will be needed to accomplish that? If you couple both these ideas, it will become apparent whom needs training and what kind of training is needed. Let your team know that ongoing training is essential to keep their skills and the shop improving. Many professions require about four hours per month of training. Our industry also needs this continuous training. Not just for new technology but also to keep our existing skills sharp. I believe our industry is no longer a trade, it has become a profession, and we should treat it as such.

Write out a training policy. Establish what type of training qualifies. There are online technician training companies that offer internet access with individual PIN numbers and they conclude with a test. This will tell you who took the training, how long they were online doing it, and their test results. Include vendor sponsored training also. Many associations and your existing vendors offer training. Check on the training they offer. If you like the training they offer, join their association.

You also should create training incentives. For example, if training requirements are met for the current month, the employee will get an additional 50 cents per hour for the next month. Pay all fees associated with passing ASE tests and offer pay incentives for ASE Certifications. It is also important to keep your service advisers and managers on this program. Sales and management training is harder to find, but it is every bit as important as technician training. Create a culture of learning and education at your shop. The exact incentives will be different from one shop to the next. The message is that training is necessary and encouraged. It demonstrates that you care about your team and the company to make sure they are prepared for the future.

Develop in-house training programs. Your sales management system or “SMS” has a ton of potential. We generally only use our SMS to create repair orders and invoices. Unlock the full potential of your SMS. Have your representative set up training for your service advisers and managers. Learn all the marketing and management tools available for this under-utilized asset you already have. Learn how to use it to its full potential. This will create a great foundation to build on.

For your technicians, begin by filling in the gaps in the basics. Select a diagnostic tool and your most proficient technician with that tool. You can administer the class with the assistance of that technician. Go over all the features and functions of each tool until everyone is proficient and comfortable using it. You will want to do this with your web based information platforms and subscriptions as well. Cover everything from how to log in to where the information is available. The more comfortable your techs are with these resources and tools, the more they will use them. The more they use them, the more likely they are to use them all of the time. Make sure everyone on your team is comfortable and proficient with every tool and resource available to them.

As you develop your training program it will take its own course. Your team will improve at their jobs and produce a better product. The culture of learning will take hold. Training gives your team goals to reach and hope for the future. The shop will progress and grow into the future. By the way, don’t worry about their leaving after you train them, good training is actually a retention tool.