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THE BENEFITS OF TRAINING

Introduction

The pace of change in the global automotive industry is accelerating dramatically. While technicians are used to the evolution of vehicle technology, never has the sector seen such exponential change. Innovative new automotive technologies including alternative powertrains and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are bringing new service and maintenance challenges that require workshops to undertake increasingly complicated repair procedures. It’s perhaps, then, never been more important for independent garages to keep pace with new technological advancements.

 

Whether you’re an independent garage owner wanting to enhance the capabilities of your business or an experienced technician looking to broaden your skillset, there’s no shortage of training options. Alongside specialist training providers, manufacturers and suppliers now also commonly offer the promise of technical know-how through webinars, videos, e-learning portals, classroom lectures, workshop demonstrations and trade events, but knowing what’s worth the investment is enough for many to delay training. 

 

This article sets out to establish the considerations garage owners need to make by weighing-up the options available, the business implications and why an effective training programme can be good for everyone.

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Why train?

Without skills and training, effective first-time fixes are difficult to achieve. Increasingly complex vehicle systems and procedures that are already filtering down to the independent aftermarket, require expertise for effective diagnostics and repairs.

 

Without a high degree of competence, jobs tend to take much longer to complete and technicians risk fitting unnecessary parts in an attempt to ‘best-guess’ what’s needed because their understanding and diagnostic processes aren’t at the right level. Customers are left waiting for longer and final bills can be far more expensive than was originally quoted, neither of which does anything for customer satisfaction and can ultimately damage reputation.

 

At an individual level, technician training goes a long way to boosting self-confidence. A trained technician makes for a happy and productive employee. A greater understanding of the ‘what, when, why, where and how’ on daily workshop tasks makes completing jobs easier and relieves the pressure of ‘guessing’. 

 

Garages willing to take the time to invest in training on a long-term basis are likely to achieve far greater results with a lot less effort. They’ll be better placed to grasp new opportunities from emerging technology, and an ongoing training programme can also help workshops recruit, develop, and retain talented technicians.

 

“The automotive industry is moving forward at a pace never before seen, more progress in the last 30 years that in the previous 100, and the rate of progress is increasing.”

 

It really is simple, if you're not learning something new all the time, you're actually slipping backwards as the technology is moving further and further away from you.”

 

“Let's face it, none of us will ever know it all, totally impossible, but we can make a conscious effort to keep up.”

 

- Rob Drinkwater of Tech Know Garage Services in Aberdare, Wales

Types of training

Face-to-face training

 

Face-to-face training remains to be a highly effective way of learning. Often held in small groups of like-minded technicians of similar ability levels, in-person training offers delegates the opportunity to share ideas, experiences and discuss possible solutions with each other, and the technical trainer, while working through the syllabus.

 

Most providers recognise the general preference among technicians for practical training over classroom theory and weight the training accordingly, although garage owners are advised to check the suitability of the training methods for their employees. The principles of vehicle electronics, for example, may be held in a classroom setting with the aid of generic circuit boards and circuit testers to demonstrate the flow of electricity followed by a workshop practical to identify the key components of a vehicle’s electrical system with a ‘fault-finding’ session. 

 

Training venues vary depending on the topic, ability level and course provider. The better quality – and often more expensive – courses are a far cry from an old classroom and chalkboard setting. State-of-the-art training facilities with the very latest vehicles, tools, equipment and training methods provide a progressive and engaging learning environment in which technicians can develop their professional skills.

 

Face-to-face training pros

✔ A good trainer will interact with delegates to check knowledge and pitch the right messages to right people.

✔ You meet like-minded technicians and can discuss experiences.

✔ Get first-hand experience on new vehicles with the latest tools and equipment.

 

Face-to-face training cons

✘ You can expect to pay more for face-to-face training, especially if it’s held at a dedicated training facility.

✘ You also have the added expense of time out the business, travel and possibly accommodation.

✘ It can sometimes be hard to digest all the information presented.

✘ Specific vehicle faults can be difficult to set up in a classroom.

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Online learning

Some studies suggest the long-term effectiveness of one-time, face-to-face training is limited, with participants retaining as little as 30% of the information after a short time. Offering a flexible alternative, digital learning gives technicians access to training at anytime and anywhere. So-called ‘e-learning’ platforms, accessible through any internet-connected device can also bring significant cost savings over more traditional learning methods. Time taken out of the business for a day, sometimes several days, for in-person training is a significant cost for garage businesses.

 

Online learning has seen significant growth in recent years, with many workshops favouring the convenience of learning at their own pace. However, being digital it can be all too easy to fall down the list of priorities when working in a busy workshop. Garages that have seen the most success with online learning are those that have ‘booked-in’ a regular timeslot for each technician to complete a module. 

 

Most online training platforms allow technicians to revisit any module and reassess the content. It’s a particularly useful aid to have in the pocket while under the bonnet of a vehicle in the workshop, putting newfound skills to use. 

 

Online training pros

✔ Tends to be a lower cost alternative.

✔ Complete training at any time.

✔ Revisit content at any time for a refresher.

 

Online training cons

✘ There’s less direct interaction with the trainer.

✘ For more advanced levels of training, courses can become limited.

✘ Some providers are better than others at offering a complete training programme.

Blended learning
Combining in-person teaching methods with online learning provides the ‘best of both worlds’ and many training providers now actively promote the benefits of a ‘blended’ approach. Such courses may start with traditional classroom-style training, followed by hands-on learning in the workshop and online assessment. Other providers offer introductory video content as a starting point, with the option for delegates to progress their knowledge further with face-to-face learning and workshop practicals. 
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‘Free’ and low-cost training

Many manufacturers and suppliers of parts, equipment and garage services offer ‘free’ or low-cost training. These programmes provide direct contact with brands and products, helping technicians better understand product features, the opportunities available and, in the case of vehicle parts, common fitting problems. A greater understanding of the product and best fitment practice reduces product failure and the task of making a warranty claim while dealing with an unhappy customer. It’s an offering that benefits workshops and vendors. 

 

Such training can take place at a manufacturer/brand training facility, local automotive college or can, in some cases, be brought to your workshop. They are also often held at trade events, be it a local motor factor-organised event or larger international trade exhibition such as Automechanika. 

 

Often marketed as ‘taster’ or ‘awareness’ training, free/low-cost training can provide an excellent route to learning. While the deeper understandings of a topic are likely to be reserved for the full training course, these sessions often provide a good introduction to a subject. With some basic understanding, a garage owner or workshop manager is better placed to decide on further investment on the subject.

 

A growing number of manufacturers and brands have now also developed digital training materials in the form of technical articles, videos and webinars. Some have gone so far as investing in the development of their own ‘e-learning’ platforms as a hub for interactive training, offering a complete training programme for garages.

Training certification

Accreditations are seen as a stamp of industry approval. Depending on the governing body, accredited providers usually follow strict procedures, with a review of course content and trainer credentials before recognition is awarded. For the delegate, it means their qualification is formally recognised, although some courses require them to pay an additional fee for the official certificate. Accredited courses will be made clear on the syllabus.

 

Such recognition demands a premium and garages should assess the value of certification verse course content. While the two ought to go hand-in-hand, caution is advised. Awarding bodies have a vested interest in selling qualifications. Garages should therefore dig deeper by examining the course contents itself, rather than making a judgement purely on an ‘industry approval’ stamp.

Business implications

Training costs both time and money. In addition to the cost of the course itself, there’s also lost productivity, travel and accommodation to consider too. Garage owners should evaluate this cost against the possibility of an increased skillset and earning potential.

 

Another common concern among independent garage owners deliberating over employee training investment is the risk of a technician leaving the business and taking their newly acquired abilities to a competitor. While it’s true that qualifications will make them more employable, many workshops find that training serves to boost employee retention and staff recruitment. Garages that fail to invest in employees risk losing technicians that feel as though they are stagnating without development.

How much training?

Ultimately, there’s no finish line when it comes to training. Continual professional development (CPD) is the ongoing and intentional maintenance and development of the knowledge and skills needed to perform in a professional context. As vehicle manufacturers continue to innovate, industry training providers are constantly updating and developing courses with new modules and courses. 

 

The frequency of training will of course be dependent on the needs of the business but don’t assume training has to an entire day off the ramps. We’ve already established the convenience of digital training – one module a day, a week or month is an improvement on none at all. Small adjustments can result in a big change – the steady acquisition of new knowledge compounds with time. James Clear, in his 2018 book Atomic Habits, states that by being 1% better at something every day, you’ll be 37 times better in one year.

 

Planned on-going training should be monitored to ensure the return on investment is adequate with average invoice values, future bookings and staff retention among your key performance indicators (KPIs). Training can be adjusted accordingly, by experimenting with different training providers and, perhaps, greater investment made for those topics that have shown to be most transformative.

 

“Many feel they are too busy to undertake extra training, especially with a hectic work schedule when they could be earning money.”

 

“Training may not solve these issues, but it should be seen as an investment which will help you make money, rather than an unnecessary expense.”

 

“Not only can training help you keep up with emerging technology, it can improve your productivity, therefore increasing your efficiency.”

 

“Attending courses can help you step outside your normal pattern of routine, reducing the negative effects that complacency can have on our ability to keep up with an ever-changing industry.”

 

“Once a new skill or deeper understanding of the subject has been gained, it will often come with a side-effect of increased confidence, and enhanced interpersonal skills.”

 

- Graham Stoakes automotive industry author and lecturer

Summary: What to look for

Garage owners should first identify the topics for development, the level of training required and decide which training format – face-to-face, digital or blended – best suits the needs of their business and technicians. When it comes to choosing a training provider, consider the following points:

 

  1. Specialist knowledge: Garages are best advised to choose a training provider that specialises in technician training, with industry expert trainers. 
  2. Course syllabus: The syllabus should follow an orderly and rational structure. Training that flows properly ensures delegates can concentrate on learning without fear of confusion. Certification may be an important aspect for some too, so look for that stamp of industry approval but don’t let accreditation alone be the deciding factor.
  3. Minimum entry requirements: An honest understanding of technician ability is a key starting point to development. Training investment will likely be wasted if the technician fails to meet the minimum requirements of the course as they’ll be unable to comprehend advanced principles.
  4. Course length: Consider the length of the course, particularly for those which require delegates to travel to a training venue. These can be costly, but the rewards of an in-depth, highly rated course could be worth it in the long run. 
  5. Reviews: Look for online reviews and testimonials of both the training provider and the specific course you’re interested in. Trade forums and social media groups are also an excellent source for gauging peer experiences and opinions. 
  6. On-going support: Learning goes beyond the classroom. Some training providers offer on-going support, usually with continued access to online training materials.
  7. Cost: Cost is of course a big factor in choosing a course, but garages should consider the initial outlay, in terms of time and money, against the longer-term benefits.
Final thought
Ongoing developments in vehicle connectivity, alternative drivetrains and autonomy is driving automotive industry change like never before. With change comes new opportunities and those willing to invest in knowledge will be best placed to exploit them. The return on a little training investment can be substantial. Taking a strategic view of training will cultivate a culture of technician development and retention, drive-up standards, boost customer satisfaction and facilitate better pay. Knowledge is power, after all.