Training today is radically different from what it was even a few years ago. In the old days, technicians would wrap up work early and head for a training class sponsored by someone at a local parts store or technical school. Those days, although not gone, are very rare indeed. The training information or updating information that comes down today is often scan-tool-based or internet-based. The information is excellent, but it often only pertains to a specific job or a specific vehicle rather than to a wide array of vehicles. The fact is that training, when it covers a subject area rather than a specific repair function or a specific vehicle, is still critical. Think about TPMS a few years ago when it first came out. Information pertaining to O-ring changes, the different valve stems, etc., on virtually every TPMS-equipped vehicle was conveyed frequently in clinics attended by a multitude of people.

I have a friend who owns a shop with eight bays and five and a half technicians, that is, one person who works part-time. They can’t remember the last time they went off site to a training session, but they do remember the last time information was shared that was learned as it pertained to a specific area of repair. The local parts supply stores do an excellent job of presenting subject areas in the form of bulletins or even by bringing in a trainer for a quick 15-minute pizza lunch for everyone at the same time and other similar functions. It’s a way to get out information without being worried about hindering your performance for the day. Regarding shop performance and training, training is part of the overall development picture. Just as you have to drive a vehicle in and out of the bays to open and close the door, you have to have training in order to perform your work functions correctly.

Another somewhat controversial area relates to technicians being able to have their digital electronic devices with them all day. This can be something as simple as a phone or as complex as a tablet built into a toolbox that also has a modem and USB ports. Shops that don’t allow their technicians to have electronic devices should reconsider. When used properly, these devices are an immediate source of technical information, procedures and specifications. Shop owners or managers who are worried about technicians wasting time watching some inappropriate venue or playing around with buying something on eBay should consider the positive aspects of having an electronic device. Sure, someone may misuse it for a minute or two, but he could also do it by taking a 15-minute “bathroom break” to head off to buy something on eBay. You’d never know the difference.

Electronic devices like tablets that display repair procedures in great detail are excellent timesavers. Want to know the tips and tricks for putting a clutch into a 2008 Honda with a five-speed manual transmission? There weren’t many of these made and you probably have never seen one. Go online and see what other people have said regarding that transmission being hoisted back into position quickly and easily. It’ll save you a good 20-30 minutes on the total job. Where did that information come from in the shop I know that did it? It came from someone’s tablet attached to his toolbox that was three feet away from the vehicle being worked on.

Off-site training is still very beneficial but not used as widely as it once was. Various companies’ professional training centers located in Midwestern cities still provide extremely beneficial training opportunities. Unfortunately, only the lead technician usually gets to go to such functions; whereas, in my opinion, the lead tech along with the best mid-range technicians should be allowed to attend. By working together at these training centers in hands-on training sessions, the technicians representing these two levels of expertise can learn the same thing and the lead technician can share his advanced knowledge with the others. When they get back they should share what they learned, why they learned what they learned and what was interesting to them. This is money well spent on your part as a shop owner. If you have your technicians drive rather than fly to these locations you save some expense. Have them stay in a motel that is moderately priced and serves breakfast. You’ll even save considerably in food cost.

Some people in this business are too proud to admit that they can learn new things, but one should never be so proud that he is not willing to listen and be respectful of others’ perspectives or opinions. Even if you know the subject area well, be willing to listen and respond to anyone, whether he’s a salesperson or a tool distributor or even a customer who comes into your shop to talk about a particular problem on a vehicle. You’d be surprised at how many customers I know who will spend countless hours researching a problem on their vehicle. Even though they know they can’t do a repair, they may know a considerable amount about the diagnostics and commonly found fault areas for a problem. Listen to these people or have your service or intake people listen to them. You might actually learn something.

Local and national trade shows are other excellent sources of training information. Walking the floor and talking to vendors, as well as attending some of the technical training sessions that are part of virtually every trade show offered today, will quickly and easily enable you to stay up to date.

Finally, you should be willing to allow your technicians to go up to the tool trucks when they come into your shop. These folks are out every day and see several hundred people every month. They listen to the various problems that are out there. Like your parts stores, they are a wealth of information for what’s going on. Use them as the training opportunity they are.

Training is not a dirty word and is not just an expense item. Use it wisely, manage it effectively and make your technicians understand that they are responsible for a certain amount of self-improvement training every month. Allow them to do it on company time. Having a technician spend a documented amount of time learning is not bad. Adjust his productivity pay schedule accordingly, if necessary, but make him accountable for what he should be learning and how he is using the knowledge gained to stay current. Your productivity and customer satisfaction index will climb greatly.