Mentoring for the Future: Grow Your Own Pool of Skilled Technicians

What is mentoring? Mentoring is a strategic approach to developing an employee (mentoree) by pairing him/her with a more experienced employee (mentor) who will teach, coach, counsel, sponsor and encourage the mentoree. Why use mentoring? Mentoring links competency development to strategic business needs. It ensures that skills are developed. It involves company experts in the process and creates and promotes a learning and diverse culture.

People have become the key competitive differentiator in today's economy. Addressing these human performance or "people issues" is still a vexing management problem for many business leaders regardless of location, industry or type of company. And our automotive repair shops - both collision and mechanical - have to address the people issues, too.

Mark Claypool is president and CEO of Mentors at Work, a company dedicated to helping the automotive repair industry establish employee training programs. Mark nails the "people" issue on the head with his opening remarks on his company's website:

Developing skilled staff is important to you and your business. Nothing gets done until human hands touch the work to be done and only highly-trained hands can work in today's technical workplaces. Too many businesses "wing-it" when it comes to training new people or moving employees up the ladder. They have no effective plan in place, no road map to follow, their trainers are under-prepared, there is often little or no tracking system in use and not much, if any accountability.

Why use a mentoring program in the automotive repair industry? By all accounts, the labor shortage in our industry could go from bad to critical in the next 20 years. A good mentoring program can allow you to effectively grow your own pool of skilled technicians. Unless something is done to remedy this situation, shops that plan to remain in business during the next several decades could find themselves trying to survive in the most dreadful of business conditions: forever fighting to retain their core employees while watching more than one-half of their most experienced, valuable technicians depart into retirement with few trained people to replace them.

And if you're hoping that tech school graduates could somehow fill the employment void, think again. Recent statistics show these graduates account for only 25 percent of new workers in the industry and there's absolutely no reason to believe this will change. Yes, dealership organizations like the Metropolitan Atlanta Automobile Dealers Association (MAADA) are doing a good job and their share of the work to help remedy the shortage situation. But it is not enough. Shops need to take matters into their own hands. Starting an effective in-house training and employee development program is a big key in the future success of any shop.

For a lot of owners and managers in our industry, there's one compelling argument against mentoring: no return on the investment (ROI). After all, what if your shop is the only one around with a program? You could be spending time and money training people who might end up going elsewhere, perhaps helping a competing business.

Claypool offers the following response. "Mentoring and retention should be part of the same overall program," he says. "Shops can retain their trainees if they also work on improving their business culture by creating a better work environment. Shops need to pay more attention to human resources and focus on their employees, something they just haven't done in the past. When shops make their employees feel important and focus on their employees, retention rates go up."

Mentoring may also create new opportunities within your business. Many employees want to advance and realized they can advance quicker if there is someone ready to replace him or her before they make the jump. Mentoring will help all employees meet their goals and stay in the industry.

Whatever the case may be, you're going to need a new employee at some point. The single best way - perhaps the only way - for you to hire the employee you want, who can do the job you want, when you want, is to grow your own. Preparing for that need now can save you from a lot of gray hair down the road.