It is hard to find good leaders in any industry and the auto repair industry is no exception. Many shop owners – perhaps you – are struggling to find good people during a labor shortage and, even if you do hire someone, you have no idea if that hire will work out.
One of the best ways to ensure you are hiring great leaders is to develop them in-house.
A leadership/mentorship program is a great way to incentivize and develop qualified auto technicians and close the worker deficit that is hurting the automotive industry right now. As a business coach, I have helped auto shop owners develop leadership programs that mold great technicians who go on to mentor other great technicians.
Accurately Evaluate Existing Talent
Finding qualified talent is so difficult. Hiring experienced outside talent can be more expensive and it can be hard to evaluate whether a prospective employee really shares your company’s values. Instead of paying established leaders, you can develop your own leaders.
Leadership programs allow you to bring in young talent who have a strong interest in being auto mechanics and learning the industry in a mutually beneficial way based on your shop’s values and processes.
A leadership program allows you to track your apprentice’s progress over a period of time. Usually, you bring on a candidate for 30 days, then have them on a paid internship program for another 60 to 90 days with the expectation that they will be an established technician starting at your shop soon after that time period. Being able to monitor an apprentice in your leadership program over a six-month period allows you to better track their strengths and weaknesses. It also allows you to cut ties with someone who is a bad fit without having to pay an established technician a larger salary.
A leadership program allows you to evaluate prospective talent over a longer period of time; however, it won’t work if you don’t plan it properly.
Properly Plan Your Program
It is important that you outline every step of your leadership program to ensure it will actually develop the types of employees your shop needs. You must determine what the program is going to be and what the timeline is for prospective candidates to advance in the program, and when they will eventually finish. Outline the types of candidates you will take on and what characteristics define the candidate you would like to hire.
Create a position description and spell out the objectives of the role and the timeline for completing those objectives over the course of the year. Map out the process for bringing them on to your team. What training will they receive at what point in the program? Who will train them? These are questions that need to be answered before you start your leadership program. I would recommend taking a spreadsheet and mapping out what the first 30 days of your leadership program will look like and what the candidate should get out of that first 30 days. Mark down the timeline of when your candidate is shadowing a mentor and when they should be actively working on cars. Setting clear goals and objectives will make it easier for you to find the right candidate and give your candidate clear objectives at which they can succeed.
How a leadership program helps your shop develop in-house talent
Also, consider creating performance incentives for your mentors. For example, if they successfully help to develop an apprentice who launches as a starting technician within 90-120 days, and can complete entry-level service work volume and produce dollars at a reasonable pace (pre-establish what this metric is for the week and month), then the mentor earns a bonus. Celebrate these achievements with all mentors and apprentices at the group lunch meetings.
Do You Have Enough Mentors?
Prospective leaders can’t become actual leaders if they don’t have mentors to follow. Make sure you have enough people to help with the training process. No one can train full time because every shop owner and their employees have other job responsibilities. You either need to bring in trainers or you need to spread out training responsibilities through several employees. Use your timeline spreadsheet to list which employee is best suited for a particular training program and how much time they should spend training their mentee. Your employees should have your apprentice start with simple training, such as helping with mundane tasks for the first month or two. You should then have them spend more time training your apprentice on more technical topics.
Creating great leaders is no easy task, which is why you need a strong team to help you shoulder the job of operating a leadership program while simultaneously keeping your shop running smoothly.
Continuous Communication is key
When creating a leadership program, it is important that you regularly communicate with your apprentice and your training team. If nobody talks, then nobody is going to know what is or is not working and whether everyone is benefitting from the program. Check in with your apprentice and team on a weekly basis to see how things are going. Bring all apprentices and mentors in as a group over a pizza, sub or similar lunch meeting to ask for positive experiences and feedback on what is working and what can be improved.
You should also meet with your apprentice for a more formal performance meeting once per month. This meeting should, once again, establish the markers for success and how well your apprentice is progressing. This is also a great time to talk about what your prospective leader is good at and what automotive career tracks at which they are most excited.
Establishing a leadership program is a great way to develop great employees from within your own shop. Instead of hoping for someone from outside your company to fit your mold, train someone in-house who buys into your shop’s values.