Continuing Education in Collision Repair A Necessity for Success

Unless your collision shop personnel are up on the latest knowledge and repair technology and are constantly learning more, your business is probably falling behind the competition. Yes, training can be expensive sometimes. But by not devoting part of your budget to this important aspect of your business could cost your shop more in the long run.

The collision repair industry is changing faster and faster every year and so are the vehicles. Just when you think everyone is up to speed, changes are made. Your techs need to know about any and all changes – all the time. Think about all the computers and wiring on today’s vehicles. Hook up a wire backwards and you might burn up a car. Or take aluminum. It is being used in more and more newer cars and this metal requires completely different procedures, techniques, and even special tools to repair it properly.

And don’t forget about your non-tech staff. Everyone in the shop – from the front end to the back end – needs to participate in continuing education. Think about your front office and customer service staff. Could they benefit from going through a conflict resolution training course? Could the estimator produce better estimates if he understood how to use the P-Pages better? And, since the estimator is really the front-line sales representative, would advanced sales technique training make this person a more valuable asset to your business by closing more jobs? And don’t forget the detailing department. They can be taught new tips and tricks, too.

The bottom line is this: From your “A” techs to the estimators to customer service to detailers, if you want to have a successful and strong business that puts out high-quality work, you must invest in continuing education.

One reason many shop owners give for not investing more in training is they feel that newly trained personnel will just go to the competition – so why pay to train some other shop’s personnel? This is a very bad philosophy to have. It is demotivating, shows a lack of trust, and can breed contempt amongst employees. If you don’t trust your techs and staff, they won’t trust you either and you probably shouldn’t be working together anyway. This is not to say that every new employee should immediately be sent to specialized and advanced training. It may be a good idea to have a stated policy that employees must work for the company for 90 days before they may attend any training. Some companies even have employees sign an agreement that states if the employee leaves the company within 12 to 24 months of any paid training, the training fees must be repaid. This is fair and may work for your business.

Actually, training builds loyalty. Research has shown that most employees who consistently participate in continuing education are more loyal to their employer. They know that training helps separate the good shops from the bad ones. It also helps to build camaraderie within the entire shop. Whether personnel should participate in training should not be a question. It is something that just needs to be budgeted for on an annual basis.

A leading industry association, the ASA (Automotive Service Association), feels so strongly about education and training that they have an official position on continuing education. It is as follows:

“The ASA supports a national training effort, whereby technicians employed by association members will receive a minimum of 36 hours of approved technical education each year.”

Citing numbers for the 2001 ASA “How’s Your Business” survey, Bill Haas, V.P., Service Repair Markets says that within the past five years, there has been a decline in the number of hours of continuing education provided to techs in collision repair shops. Currently, it is at 16 hours per year for collision repair techs. Mechanical repair techs are attending slightly more continuing education at 29 hours per year per tech for mechanical shops. Our industry should be doing better – and it can.

All training is not expensive. Your vendors and paint and supply Jobber can be a great source to provide excellent training opportunities. And groups such as dealers’ associations are additional sources. These partners want your business to succeed – it is in their best interest, too. They are usually quick to respond to your needs and are even willing to set up training classes when asked. Give it a try.

An old saying states that “success breeds success.” This is true. If your shop sets a higher standard in all that it does, including training, it will attract a higher level of employee. People just want to work with other people who think and act and work the same way they do. If they know that the company they work for invests in continuing education to help them improve their performance and skills, they will be more likely to stay and do a good job for a long time.

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