While tuition reimbursement and other incentives are more common, Doering says conversations with dealers and officials at Universal Technical Institute, the automaker's primary technician training partner, convinced Volvo that tool debt was a significant issue for new techs.
"When we discussed admissions challenges, they were very clear. The cost of education is one thing, but then we ask students to take on this tool burden," Doering says. "It's a real barrier to entry."
The set isn't owned by the technician, but access is free as long as they work at their dealership, which is responsible for maintaining and replacing worn-out pieces. Volvo estimates the set can save techs up to $20,000 over the course of their tenure with a single store. Volvo says its techs average 11 years at each dealership where they work and 24 years with the company, five above the national average, according to Carlisle & Co.
Enterprising dealers have offered some tool cost assistance over the years, but it's rare for automakers to help directly. Denver's Rickenbaugh Auto Group previously provided discounted tools but found Volvo's solution better for everyone.
Even though there's an evaluation period for techs, Rickenbaugh Vice President Nick Pacifico says the dealership plans to let them keep the tools. "We're making an investment in training that individual through their career path so that they never have a reason to leave," he says.
The tool program, Pacifico says, helps create loyalty. "It says that the brand actually cares about the technician."
This, Pacifico says, can make a difference in winning over a student who may also be looking at programs from other manufacturers.
Only Fiat Chrysler Automobiles currently offers a similar "toolbox" as part of its training programs, though Ford offered a similar program in 2019. A spokesperson told Fixed Ops Journal that Ford is looking into reviving its tool kit program. Other manufacturers offer less structured allowances, which may or may not be used for tools.
Bob Bauman, director of the automotive technology program at Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville, Ga., says many dealership partners provide some sort of tool assistance, and the school partners with Snap-on for student discounts. Still, more direct manufacturer assistance would be welcome.
"When parents see the cost of tools, it's like throwing cold water on things," Bauman says. "If we can show them these incentives, it's going to get students into our programs and keep them going."