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International Automotive Technicians Network
Re: Attracting New Talent
Posted to Shop Management Forum on 11/15/2015 3 Replies

Gary, Pete, & All,

Like Gary, I'm trying not to write a novel, so here goes...

We are a transmission specialty shop; one of the few that doesn't do general repairs. We have enough transmission and drivetrain related business we don't have to. The last 3 years of our business we averaged $1.1M in sales out of a 3K sq. ft. rinky dink shop with only 4 lifts and 3 techs. Our best year was $1.3M.

We built a classroom with all the bells and whistles. LCD projector, big screen, whiteboard, DVD, etc. We had weekly training sessions for the entire shop that were required. We watched technical webinars. I taught and trained. I gave homework. (I'm a CMAT and former rebuilder)

We paid not only for the annual ATRA seminars when they came around to SLC (including wages to attend) we also did the same for the annual Powertrain Expo down in Vegas where we close the shop for 3 days and the entire shop goes. The shop pays for hotel, registration, plus the guys are on the clock to attend because we require that they go. Four years ago the Expo was in Washington D.C. and we had to pay round trip airfare to boot. We did all of this for the better part of 7 years. We averaged about $25K/yr. in training costs.

Sounds all fine and wonderful, doesn't it? It's an absolute waste of time and money. Absolute waste. Let me share with you what I learned the hard way to where you don't make the same mistake I made.

I figured if I smothered the techs in training, we'd have the best shop around. In some respects, we did. Morale was high and everybody was working as a team. Why not? They got a free lunch every Tuesday during the shop training meeting plus paid training. Technically we sucked. We had a horrible comeback rate. First I need to clarify what constitutes a comeback. It doesn't mean a total transmission failure. Leaks, harsh shifting, morning sickness, noises, vibrations, delayed engagements, TCC issues, etc. And of course, let's not forget the ones that have trouble out of town or out of state. We're in the middle of BFE, Utah and every place is far away. Right in the middle of The Great Basin.

You can't take a transmission apart, figure out how it works, and put it back together and expect it to work today like we did in the old days when things were much simpler. Today, just because a transmission is assembled correctly is no guarantee it will even work, let alone won't be a comeback. I don't care how hard somebody stares at and studies at a disassembled transmission on their bench, they are never going to understand the theory and principles of operation of an automatic transmission unless they read and study books. You can't SEE fluid flowing through oil circuits or electrons flowing through electrical circuits in today's transmissions. It takes diligent, engaged, and motivated study on behalf of the technician.

When a transmission builder today has a late model transmissions not work properly after he rebuilt it, he no more has any idea of what's going on than the tech that installed it. THAT'S THE REASON remans are making inroads into our industry. We let them. Our industry created the vacuum with under-educated rebuilders. The reman industry merely filled the vacuum our industry created.

So why didn't my grand plan for training not work? It was so simple and staring me in the face I didn't see it. I WAS TEACHING THE WRONG STUDENTS! You want better transmission rebuilders? You want better automotive technicians? START WITH BETTER STUDENTS.

98% of the kids wanting to enter this industry are simply poor students. Plain and simple. They don't do their homework. They don't study. There's a reason they didn't go to college. When I started requiring high school transcripts during the hiring process, I learned why. They won't even take the time to watch training videos I buy unless I make them watch them on the clock. When I give homework assignments, they are never done. Videos aren't watched. They aren't getting paid to do it. "I have a life outside this shop." they say.

I didn't have a problem with the transmission installer/techs; it was the rebuilders. I went through several during the 7 year training experiment due to quality control issues. Wages weren't the problem because we paid between $72K and $112K/yr. depending on quality and production.

In the end, I found that entry level mechanical engineers, fresh out of college, make substantially less that that. Simply by virtue of have a Bachelor's degree, they know how to read, comprehend, and study. They are used to doing homework; and lots of it. It's second nature. I don't know about general auto repair, but it's a great idea for automatic transmission rebuilding and I'm pursuing it.

I've hooked up with John Kelly at Weber State University, just north of SLC. He is head of their automotive department. (Check out his YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/WeberAuto ) Even he says that none of his students are good enough for me to hire. So I'm moving over to the engineering department and hit them up. I can hire an engineering intern and the intern gets college credits for working. Normally, an internship is non-paid, but I'm offering a paid internship with hopes of hiring the student full time upon graduation. If not, I'll hire another intern until I find one that I think will stick.

So, the moral to the story is that we can't baby-sit and hand-hold these kids into training. It takes motivation on their part and a lot of the stuff, especially electrical, HAS to come out of a book. Yeah, practical experience is great, but today's vehicles require knowledge of theory and principles of operation and I don't feel like reading any bedtime stories to apprentices. Know what I mean?

Simply put, the technology of today's automobiles are simply over the heads of the vast majority of would-be technicians due to their academically-impaired nature. Some say it's today's generation, but I beg to differ. If we want better technicians coming into our industry we need to start with better students and leave the poor students to the other trades because ours has now become a profession by anybody's standard.

Larry Bloodworth
Technical Information Specialist/Technician
Tanner Transmissions
Draper, Utah, USA

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