As cars and trucks evolve, service technicians routinely keep up with the changes -- and maintain their professional certifications -- by taking small-scale online refresher courses.
Dealership service departments generally have expected their technicians to pursue this study on their own time. That's a matter of chronic dissatisfaction among techs.
An anonymous tech who posted recently on a forum sponsored by the employment website indeed.com offers a typical complaint: "I'm on my 4th dealership and it's the same old thing. You need to complete these 40 courses at home, on your own time. My girlfriend works at Home Depot and they have paid time to complete online courses."
Less than 10 percent of dealerships pay service department employees to complete online courses, estimates Mattia Janigro, a management consultant with Carlisle & Co. Most of the stores that provide such compensation are part of public or large regional dealership groups, he adds.
Among these is Ricart Automotive Group, which operates seven dealerships from its base in Groveport, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. Brad Sells, the group's director of technician recruitment and development, says most online tech training courses sponsored by automakers take about one to three hours to complete.
"We treat that training as flat-rate time, just like changing brakes or doing a regular mechanical job," Sells says. The average hourly rate for Ricart technicians is $25.28, the company says.
"We pay [techs] to train themselves," Sells says. "Manufacturers and customers evaluate us on how often we fix it right the first time. We're expected to be the experts, and we train accordingly."
Such training and certification enhance technicians' ability to handle a variety of jobs, Sells says, increasing their service departments' efficiency. Technicians at the Ricart group have been with the company an average of 11 years, he says. That's about 18 percent longer than the national average, Janigro says.
Adds Sells: "On a rainy day when there's no customer work, training is an opportunity to find [technicians] hours and bridge those gaps in a paycheck. That's huge for our technicians."