Ashley Butler: Betting It All on Education

Ashley Butler: Betting It All on Education

Education is at the core of Butler's views on how we should handle industry problems.

One of those true rockstar qualities is reaching out to others and helping them get into a better position. Ashley Butler, franchisor of Ice Cold Air Discount Auto Repair in Tampa, Florida, is all about bettering her community, whether that’s through helping her franchisees realize their business dreams, giving back through charity or helping students understand the potential of blue-collar work. Part of Butler’s methodology for uplifting others is by educating them. In fact, education is at the core of her views in how we should handle the tech shortage.

n this interview, learn more about Butler’s views on:

0:39: How technology is changing the automotive repair industry

3:18: How to present auto repair as a desirable career for young people

7:06: The Right to Repair

9:12: The technician shortage and the need for mentorship

10:43: Investing in education for your business

13:29: How to build community and relationships in your business

15:38: Tips for keeping yourself educated.

I Believe You Can Fly

Of course, sometimes people don’t know what they want out of life — especially if they can’t find the right information to guide their choices. Today’s youth are battered with information and choices screaming at them right from birth. With the workforce as large as it is now, it shouldn’t be difficult to find help.

So why is there a tech shortage?

We could debate the answer to that question for hours, but according to Butler, part of the problem is that the industry is not presenting itself as a viable career opportunity in the modern world. Views of auto repair are outdated — and the industry isn’t working to change that. Perhaps that’s in part because the industry isn’t quite sure how to present itself either. Case in point, Butler describes the auto repair industry as “evolving” and “in discovery.”

“We have to figure out how we present what we do as a desirable career for people and that you don’t have to want to be greasy and dirty to be a technician. We need programmers. We need people who understand computer systems and that you can be a technology enthusiast and come and create a very viable career in the automotive repair and service industry. So, I think that’s where we’re evolving.”

Ashley Butler giving a speech at the Ice Cold Air Retreat
Butler gives a presentation at the Ice Cold Air Retreat, where she updated the company on its new leadership objectives.

Butler believes that the industry needs to do a better job of reaching out to students as early as middle school to get them understanding that becoming a technician is a viable — and rewarding — career path. She notes that many of her own technicians, who started out making $15 an hour, grew to earn six-figure incomes in just four or five years. While she’s definitely an advocate for higher education, sitting on boards at USF, she also believes in showing students that there are multiple paths to success. She believes that shop classes need to be offered again in schools — but that equipment manufacturers need to step up and help out by supplying their products to schools in order to provide that learning environment.

In addition, Butler believes that techs need to grow better at passing down the information they’ve learned instead of hording it to themselves to prevent competition.

“I think we need structure for leadership and guidance and team building, because as people are leaving industries, there’s a bunch of knowledge that is going to leave with them. Promoting and encouraging mentorship through shared compensation plans, maybe an override type of compensation plan for lead technicians and diagnostic technicians to where they’re rewarded to pass their skills down. They don’t feel like ‘I’m teaching somebody to replace me.’ They’re basically saying, ‘I’m teaching someone how to help me produce more with less of my body.’ Those are things that we had to become creative with, especially knowing that we have … a technician shortage. We have to create a world where people kind of gamify sharing of knowledge and the passing down of knowledge, and that has worked,” Butler explains.

Lift Yourself

And, of course, Butler’s call for education doesn’t stop with techs. She encourages shop owners to continue to educate themselves too — both on how their shops really work and the new technology in the industry.

Sometimes, business owners have one view of how their companies run and what the culture is while the employees have a completely different view. If you want to close the gap and get closer to understanding your team members and empathizing with them, Butler suggests trying a little undercover boss experience. Sometimes, this may open your eyes up to what your shop needs to change or understand better to grow. You’ll need that new knowledge just as much as your techs will — and sometimes, it takes spending money to make money.

Ashley Butler and other Ice Cold Air employees
Butler has closed the gap between her and other Ice Cold Air employees by giving them “permission to succeed.”

Butler advises, “Don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t think that what you knew in the ‘80s and the ‘90s is going to suffice. Take yourself back to school. Ask questions. Be curious. Go take yourself, fly out of state wherever you need to go get some training or send somebody from your team who is curious and has the nature to continue to learn to do it and be patient. This is one of our hardest things. We want to put a guy who has a little tool cart [in the shop] and think that they’re going to just know how to [work]? No, we’ve got to teach them how to be in the shop. We’ve got to teach them how to be safe in the shop. We have to be patient with them. That takes money. That means we have to be responsible for building up a coffer. That means we need to be responsible around what we’re investing in. It’s going to take grit. It’s going to take sacrifice.”

While Butler is always trying to improve her knowledge with audio books and “YouTube University,” she also finds going to AAPEX a tremendously worthwhile experience.

“This [2023] was my actual first year spending a good amount of time in the AAPEX section. Generally, we’re over in the [Las Vegas] Convention center and doing the classrooms there, but the [AAPEX] agenda was exactly what I was looking for, going from being a franchisee to a franchisor and creating training content for our internal programming and training for our people. I wanted to make sure that we were grabbing the most accurate up-to-date knowledge,” Butler recounts. “A few of our vendors were present there, so we got a chance to meet some people that we hadn’t met in person and only through emails, maybe some Teams meetings. It was good to just shake some hands — it was awesome. I know that we’ll be there next year.”

Just like how Bronxites fostered hip-hop in their community, promoting its rise until it became the global sensation it is today, so too does Butler support her community of franchisees and students, encouraging them to also become Vehicle Care RockStars.

Ice Cold Air employee photo
The staff of Ice Cold Air celebrates a successful retreat that deepened their bonds and understanding of the company’s goals.

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