Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2002   by Bob Greenwood

Greenwood On Management: Has our industry lost focus on one important point?

Shop operators within the independent sector realize that their labour rates must move higher if they are going to retain competent technicians. The customer/client must be educated to the realities o...

Shop operators within the independent sector realize that their labour rates must move higher if they are going to retain competent technicians. The customer/client must be educated to the realities of this issue, and everyone must slow down and communicate/educate their clientele.

Before anyone can command higher labour rates, however, Management must clearly acknowledge, and understand, one very important point.

The most important, and critical, point to realize is that your shop must be set up to attract, and retain, competent technicians and support staff. No one, anywhere within our industry, has the right to demand higher rates if their staff are not properly trained to execute all services thoroughly, accurately, professionally, and efficiently, for the price being demanded by the shop from their customer/client.

A comment that does come up frequently now, however, is “where can I get competent technical training?”

Everyone in this industry must take some of the responsibility for making the current bed that we are lying in, as now the “complaining” has begun. Everyone for the past 20 years, or quite frankly it seems forever, has been running their training based on price. Everyone wanted the very best quality training, but the greater majority were not willing to pay for it. This industry has now lost some fantastic trainers because of this attitude. The best trainers that I have had the privilege of meeting over my time in this industry were exceptional people, very personable, highly skilled, had taken the time to learn all the detail the right way, kept on top of their skill level like no one else and with tremendous pride, were always a step ahead of their students in terms of knowledge of their subjects and were prepared to travel to share their knowledge. They loved this industry, and had a high regard for its true potential. Way too many within the industry did not appreciate them. Many did not even think of this issue. The independent sector was not willing to pay these skilled professionals a professional fee to insure they were retained within our industry.

A parallel comparison can be made here. As the public does not seemingly appreciate the skill level required to become, and remain, a competent licensed technician, the independent sector of our industry does not appreciate the skill level and commitment required to be a competent technical trainer. If you are not happy with the current availability and level of technical training today, you are now witnessing the results of your past attitudes towards the financial support of this subject, so get over it. There is an acute shortage of competent trainers left in this industry. I would not be surprised that many of the good ones that are left are looking around now to secure a better future for themselves and their families. This is well on its way to becoming a travesty in our segment of the industry. A few years back, I was personally aware of a well-regarded, competent technician who had the ability to become a dynamic trainer, and even hinted to me the personal desire that he would have liked to become one, but found a substantially better income by becoming an equipment salesman. Go figure. Our industry is providing zero incentive to retain the best of the current ones that are still around, or attract new ones to take over their role. We are continuing to chase them away.

We must get off this issue of price, price, price on everything we do in this industry, and every level of our industry must get behind this. We are in the knowledge business, and knowledge is the key to survival today and tomorrow. To receive, and experience, the knowledge disseminated from highly skilled technical trainers is truly an “investment” into the business, not an “expense”. Whenever you pay a highly skilled trainer a professional fee to execute his service of delivering his high level of knowledge to yourself, and your people, you have always recouped that investment back within 30 working days, at the latest. Why do we then complain about putting out the money they ask for? Who cares? If they are the best, pay them, or you will lose them. The choice is yours.

Answer this question honestly. Would you take the time to become a competent trainer for this industry today? Would you take the time to learn the skills they have, including the ability and skill required to deliver their knowledge in a “public” forum called the classroom, in a format where the student actually enjoys the whole experience, and looks forward to the next course with the trainer? The ability to be able to do that is a skill. Would you be prepared to take the time required to stay on top of your technical skill level considering the fast-paced technology changes taking place within the vehicle, to insure you are always one step, if not two, ahead of everyone who attends your class? Would you be willing to work all those nights the industry wants you to, away from your family, because the independent sector of the industry can not organize their business so training can be done during the day? Would you do all that at the current industries “pay level”? I didn’t think so. Now you see what the problem is and it is getting worse every year. We seem to treat these people like “second class citizens” in that even we don’t think they deserve a professional income, after all they are only “teachers/trainers”. Everyone must wake up to reality here, and treat and pay the technical trainers left in this industry a professional income to keep them around, and provide the financial incentive to attract new ones. I have said many times, a competent technician in our industry is worth easily $75,000 to $85,000 a year today. A competent trainer is one who is prepared to make the personal sacrifices, capable of staying ahead of these competent technicians, and at the same time has the skill level to work with these technicians to keep them motivated to maintain their high level of competency. They are easily worth $125,000 to $150,000 a year, but, in both cases, this sector of the industry is nowhere close to paying these levels, because we say we can’t afford to. I must disagree.

The real problem is that we are always trying to pay for training out of “current cash on hand”, and now the receivables in the business are way out of control, and cash is tight because of mismanagement of the business; management “perceives” they can not afford a course. The second problem is that management does not have a “relationship” with its customer/client base, consequently, they are not willing to educate the customer/client on the real costs of this business today and in turn, they never have charged the correct labour rates in the past to recover these costs. This has compounded itself over the past 5 years. Consider getting your receivables in so you have the “cash” to take all the necessary training required to be the best in this industry.

It is time to get off the price issue when it comes to competent training, and realize the fantastic return on this investment you truly receive when you implement the knowledge taught. Everyone must work hard to retain the competent technical trainers left within our industry. So start to get your financial house in order, write the cheque, attend their classes, wherever they may be, become a sponge and absorb their knowledge that they are willing to share with you, and become competent and the very best that you can be. Move your labour rates to the level of your competency. Make the investment, reap the rewards.

Robert (Bob) Greenwood is President and CEO of E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. and Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. Bob has over 27 years of Business Management experience within the automotive industry, counseling individual shops in Ontario.

E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. offices specialize in the independent sector of the automotive industry, preparing analytical operating statements for Management purposes, personal and corporate tax return completion, Business Management consultation and Business Management an
d Employee Development Courses. Visit E. K. Williams & Co. on the Internet at and sign up for their FREE monthly management letter sent to you by E-mail.

Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. is a company devoted to developing Automotive Shop Business Management skills through the E-Learning environment over the inter-net. Students learn at their own speed, and at a time, and place, that best suits their needs; available 7 days a week 24 hours a day.

Visit Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. on the Internet at

Bob can be reached at (613) 836-5130, 1-800-267-5497, FAX (613) 836-4637 or by E-mail; or

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