Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2003   by Jim Anderton

Training Wheels

The Automotive Industries Association, supported by Industry Canada, has studied the status of training in the automotive aftermarket, and it's not a good news story. While independent repair businesses are addressing the need to train for new repair technologies, the same isn't true for business management.


With competitive pressures squeezing profitability and a serious labour shortage in many parts of the country, it would come as no surprise to learn that independents everywhere are racing to adopt business management training as a necessity for survival. The fact that it isn’t happening, at least not enough, should be a cause for concern. The AIA (Automotive Industries Association), supported by Industry Canada, has released a report entitled “The Training Culture in the Automotive Aftermarket, which reveals that the reasons for the slow adoption of potentially business-saving training are more complex than simple resistance to change. In fact, the study suggests that many businesses in the automotive aftermarket would actively pursue extensive management training if a few basic obstacles could be eliminated.

Identifying the Need

According to the report, “The overall findings for this study support the AIA 2001 Outlook Study in its assertion that while the automotive aftermarket has significantly improved technical training, little advancement has been made in the area of business or personal skills development. Some of the business skills and personal development training needs identified remain the same, in particular:

Customer management

Marketing

Time management

Challenges to accessing training are also consistent with those identified in earlier reports. Most notable are concerns related to:

Scheduling courses/programs;

Availability of courses;

Accessibility/location;

Costs;

Lack of evaluations on courses/ programs;

Inability to track completion rates;

Lack of currency of information; and,

Lack of qualified in-house trainers for certain topics.

While the availability of adequate training programs is a certain obstacle, getting participants into the right program is essential before considering the classroom environment. “Most often the adult learning system does not provide individuals with the information needed to make the right choices about their learning, declares the AIA report, adding, “An OECD study completed in 1999 concluded that Canadian workers’ participation in formal learning is average compared with other industrialized countries. Formal learning was defined as educational activities that have a structured plan and clear objectives geared to the development of the learner’s skill and competence. Results showed that the rates of participation in adult education and training did not grow throughout the 1990s. The same OECD study also reported that Canadian businesses in all sectors do not invest as much in training compared with firms in other countries. A number of factors have been found to contribute to this lack of training investment, including concern that newly trained workers may leave the firm. Small-sized employers cite the lack of resources and in-house expertise as reasons for low investment in skills development and human resources planning. These issues have also been identified in the automotive industry in general and the aftermarket specifically.”

So why don’t Canadian shops concentrate on the whole training package instead of the technical side? The study reports that “while some business skills training resources are available, what appears to be lacking are partnerships or linkages among the various providers, as well as an industry champion to coordinate these efforts. As a result, the industry is left with training offerings that are not necessarily tailored to the Canadian aftermarket business environment, delivery formats which do not always respond to varying company needs, and course content which is not standardized. However, for some companies the barriers to providing this type of training to their employees remain more operational, i.e., too costly; inconvenient times; geographically too far to access, or the desired topics are not available in their area. Thus, the need for a more coordinated approach to business skills and personal development training presents several challenges for the automotive aftermarket that will require further investigation.”

While business management training courses are available from several sources in Canada, CARS Council, in response to thier human resources study called “Bridging the Gaps”, has expanded their IDL (Interactive distance Learning) programming to include several business skills courses. In addition, some aftermarket companies, particularly the larger ones, do offer business skills training to employees in supervisory or managerial positions or to employees demonstrating potential to move into such positions. However, a number of these companies turn to the United States or use U.S.-based organizations, a situation that is clearly less than ideal given differences between Canadian and U.S. markets and consumer behavior.

What does the report recommend to alleviate this ongoing problem? Promotion about the benefits of training and better availability of quality courses and trainers. And there lies the “Catch 22” of the training issue. Without adequate demand, the resources available to forward-thinking businesses and individuals will be limited. Without a strong supply of training resources, awareness and therefore demand, will also stay limited. From a business perspective, this may play out as a significant opportunity for a shop to enhance profitability as competitors neglect management training. For shops that ignore that training, it could also be a death knell as better-managed shops swallow much of their local markets. The stats show that Canadian shops are getting better at taking on the technical training needed to repair today’s vehicles. Whether that effort will translate into a drive to repair today’s businesses remains to be seen.

The full text of “The Training Culture in the Automotive Aftermarket Industry in Canada” is available on-line at www.aiacanada.com


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