A structured mentoring program, in which apprentices do the work and an older mentor acts as a coach and trainer, develops productive line techs faster, Harkins says.
The mentor is the team leader who oversees five or six apprentices, he says. “His responsibility is to make them journeymen technicians. The mentor’s incentive is that his pay is based on how many hours his apprentices produce and the measurable progress they make towards becoming line techs.”
Harkins acknowledges that the concept has been hard to sell to many dealerships because it initially reduces production and raises costs. Instead of generating his own flat-rate hours, the experienced tech is mentoring green apprentices, who might produce only three or four hours a day at first.
But Wright says the higher initial cost is an investment. He used advice from Harkins and others to shape Shaheen Chevrolet’s mentoring program. It pays mentors so they make at least as much as they did wrenching.
“This isn’t a fast fix for anything, it’s a long-term program,” Wright says. “You have to have the owner’s backing to do something like this, because the initial cost of sale for this mentor program is probably 35 to 40 percent higher than for a normal A tech.”
Once C-level apprentices become B or A techs working on their own, Wright sees the investment paying off.
“As the apprentices become more productive and more knowledgeable, the mentor’s piece of this becomes less,” he adds. “That raises the capacity in my shop and drives down my cost of sale. In a shop with 60 technicians, if [initially] I’m paying two of them considerably higher to train five, I can live with that.”
Other dealerships and dealership groups, such as Ganley Automotive Group, headquartered in northeast Ohio, and West Herr Auto Group in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., have developed sophisticated mentoring programs for service technicians.
At Todd Wenzel Buick-GMC in Davison, Mich., fixed operations director Scott Kohagen started a program about seven years ago, when one of his best techs developed multiple sclerosis at age 40 and could not turn wrenches.