Is Your Entry-Level Tech Training Plan Firing on All Cylinders?

Is Your Entry-Level Tech Training Plan Firing on All Cylinders?

Guest writer Bill Pyles writes this week on the topic of on-boarding and making sure your techs are ready for what they are asked to do in, “Is Your Entry-Level Tech Training Plan Firing on All Cylinders?”

I’ve written blogs in the past addressing and promoting the value of entry-level technicians and mechanics; this blog adds to the prior discussions regarding entry-level techs. Entry level is usually younger men and women just starting their career in heavy equipment (or utility equipment) or older individuals starting over with a new career. Yes, the world is populated with thousands of experienced heavy equipment mechanics; but how are good mechanics and technicians developed? When does a young man or woman evolve into the “top gun” when it comes to equipment maintenance and repair? It happens from careful planning and attention to detail.

After retiring from the dealer world after nearly 50 years, I joined Mechanics and Techs LLC, a recruiting company for dealers, private contractors, and others. I’ve noticed a new position popping up at dealers, Talent Acquisition, or a similar title. Hopefully, these new positions will not only find new talent but also recognize there is much, much more in hiring and retaining talent. Successful companies will see the benefits quickly!

A few things must happen to take an entry-level tech from “desire” to “success”. The first basic item required is an individual who has a mechanical aptitude and the desire to continuously learn. There are several good mechanical aptitude tests available on the web. Another good place to start is a technical school, either public or private. Many out there are more than capable of teaching basic technician skills. Many offer a certificate program while others offer a two-year associate’s program. Some technical schools partner with a dealership to have the student physically work at the dealership during his/her education. This last option is great in having the ability to see the student in a real dealer shop environment with real-time input/advice from dealer supervisory personnel. The quality of the technical school training is equally as important as the student’s grades and attendance. Unfortunately, a student with poor attendance and poor grades will never be your next top gun tech. Never.

Finally, graduation day has come, and your dealership has made a commitment in taking on entry-level technicians. I feel it’s important to note, entry-level tech does not mean you’ve hired a technician whom you can pay minimum wage for the next few years. The first two items a dealer needs are a developmental pay plan (earn while you learn) and a career-building training plan, entry-level to Top Gun. Be sure part of the hiring process is a copy of your training and wage scale. Spend quality time with the new tech in explaining the “earn while you learn” approach. Remember, training never ends. I enjoy telling anyone on the product support team as soon as you think you’ve learned or experienced it all, something changes, and your back in training! Also, be sure to have the new tech uniforms ordered and hanging in the locker room. New uniforms can be a great sense of pride for the new tech and immediately identify him or her as a valued member of your team! Preferably, provide your company uniforms to the new tech while they are still in school. Very professional looking for all.

Bring your new techs in during the slow season (if you have one). Give them a fair chance to get acclimated to the shop environment and the other techs. Unfortunately, I’ve seen new techs thrown into the shop mix only to make mistakes and fail. Then the supervisor, who did little to help coach or mentor the new tech is screaming for his/her termination, NOW. All the technical training has now been wasted and the new tech has a termination to add to his resume as well as a broken ego. Bring the new tech on board when it’s slow. You’ll be able to properly onboard the new hire, have a coach/mentor work with him/her, and provide the environment that will contribute to their success.

Most of the OEMs I’ve worked with in the past have excellent training material available to the dealer and tech regarding their products. The training plans I feel had the most value was those that started with the basics (fundamentals of service), broken bolt extraction, general electrical, root cause failure analysis, etc. There is much to be learned before diving into the rebuilding of an engine or transmission. Unfortunately, the basics are too often overlooked, and we attempt to make an entry-level tech into a qualified field tech in too short of time. Needless to say, this results in incorrect repairs, frustrated customers, and a terminated tech. A structured training plan, with occasional updating for new products, will be your new tech’s roadmap for success. Allow your tech to participate in other training modules, such as oil sampling, systems training such as the undercarriage, ground engaging tools, cooling packages, and others.

Here is my opinion of a good training path. First, I strongly suggest using the OEM’s training path, including sending new and experienced techs for instructor-led training. Round this training out with the basics of electrical, hydraulics, drivetrain, and engines. Like any good educational program, the basics are the foundation, the building blocks of understanding the material being learned. I know this very well, firsthand. While in grade school, I did not catch on to the then, “new math” but always passed the current math subject and went to the next math training level. Without a basic understanding of the material, I had nothing to build upon (no solid foundation) and had to depend on others to help me catch up. That brings me to a third item needed, good mentors/coaches.

Designate a couple of top-notch mentors/coaches in your shop. Introduce your new entry-level tech to the shop coach/mentor (this could be your shop supervisor or leadman). A good mentor/coach not only needs to have outstanding knowledge of the equipment, but he must also have the mechanical aptitude to explain the repair. Think of this as being like your lead man or shop supervisor explaining a repair option to a customer. Most customers have some working knowledge of their equipment, some have very little working knowledge of how the equipment functions, but your challenge is to explain what failed (failure analysis) and what needs to be repaired/rebuilt (training path). A well-trained tech should know this as well.

Be sure to add your new entry-level tech to your incentive program and start measuring their performance. He or she is now part of your team, and every effort must be made to make the new tech feel like a contributing member of the team. If your incentive plan is based on performance (many are) be sure to choose the work orders carefully for the new tech. Assigning basic work orders, such as steam cleaning, moving the machine into a bay, removing and installing buckets for rental units, etc. can build the confidence of a new tech who is “learning the ropes”. The opposite of this example is putting the new tech on the job to pull the flux capacitor from the first machine to hit the market.  Why not, after all, it’s a warranty and you can invoice the manufacturer. And the manufacturer will pay a fair amount of labor, but not the 56 hours the new tech put into the work order.

Create your road map for new and experienced tech success with a solid wage and training plan. It will pay dividends!

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