Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2006   by Auto Service World

A View From the West

Alberta conference offers perspectives on business and politics

There is not one industry in this country that has been untouched by the rocketing price of oil.

For the aftermarket, this has come in the pure cost of doing business, as well as the added aggravation of losing staff to the oil patch.

So, it was not without some irony that the Western Regional Conference of the Automotive Industries Association was conducted on a theme of “Fuelling Change” and took a distinctly Albertan view of business and politics, in keeping with its Red Deer venue.

Roger Soucy, the president of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, kicked off the official proceedings. He said that while the petroleum industry is obviously flourishing, it still has its challenges.

Challenges with which the aftermarket is familiar include finding the right personnel. Soucy characterized the needed skill set for many roles in the oil patch as being extremely low. “If you can show up for work, you can get a job. If you can show up for a week, you can have a permanent job.”

The major challenge is, however, in research and development into long-term technologies.

The issue, he says, is that the large oil companies, such as Imperial Oil, have left the research and development sector in Canada, leaving those tasks to the small- and medium-sized companies that are directly involved with the drilling and exploration.

“The problem [with] the small- and medium-sized companies [doing] most of the R&D is that they are really interested in the commercial side of things.

“We’re very good at innovation, but horizontal drilling, for example, is 20 years old already and there is nothing coming along to replace it.

“So we have a real challenge in our industry.”

Bob Mills, Conservative Member of Parliament from Red Deer, Alberta, followed up on the Alberta theme with a speech that could have been titled, “How Albertans and Conservatives are so much smarter than everyone else in Canada, especially Torontonians.”

He spoke of how Kyoto was a meaningless social club that generated more hot air than it reduced, and how the solution to effecting a change in emissions involves a change in which power generation facilities are built, which emissions are recaptured, and new generation technologies.

He also spoke about the Right to Repair issue. “First of all, the customer must have a choice; they should not be forced to go back to the dealer. Now it’s a matter of trying to convince our government to look at things a different way.

“And obviously price standards are needed,” he added.

Mills says that it is important for government to change the way that it does business. “If there is one message, it is to think out of the box.”

Speaking very much inside the box that is the automotive aftermarket, panellists discussed the shortage of skilled people coming into the industry and some programs that are coming to the industry’s aid.

On the panel were Nicole Herod, from the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum; Murray Straten, Alberta Apprenticeship and Training; Jeff Roberts, who operates two service facilities in Alberta; and Gilbert Renaud, who hails from Quebec and has been a technician for many years, but now works as the chair of the Transportation Faculty at Red Deer College.

“I see the consumer left out in the cold, not knowing which way to go. Are the technicians on the independent side as competent as those on the OE side? There are confidence issues. Does the consumer have confidence in the aftermarket? I think they do but they have to be shown it,” said Roberts.

That affects the draw from the communities into the trade.

“The Canadian appren-ticeship forum is undertaking a social marketing campaign,” says Herod. “We are trying to get people into the skilled trades. We our data shows that the average young person doesn’t necessarily know that you exist. They know that the automotive industry exists, but they don’t know that there are different sectors that they could participate in.”

Also problematic is the perception of parents.

While some 69% of parents said that they support skilled trades options for their children, reported Herod, only 20% actually do so when they are communicating with their children. “So there is a big difference between what people say they do, and what they actually do.”

Communicating with a Purpose

Norm Rose, who offers training in communications and sales strategies through his Excel company, offered an interactive session that advised attendees to employ a disciplined strategy for success in a changing business world.

“There is so much change going on in the world. How much is changing? Is it affecting our business? It sure is.

“But how do we fuel change in our business? If we do everything we do the same way tomorrow as today, what will the results be in 12 months from now?

“It’s very important that you are communicating on a regular basis to show those people how they can become more profitable, but also so you can show them how things are changing.

“I really believe you must take the time to talk about rising costs. I encourage you to communicate the value of your business to your people.

If you know what your goals are, sometimes you have to change your approach in order to achieve them. To continue to do things the same way and expect different results is the definition of insanity.”

He says that most barriers to change are internal. The desire to change is not the same thing as a strategy for change, he added.

“Understand the difference between spending time on your business, and investing time in your business. If we’re not investing time in our future, we know what the consequences will be.”

Think about yourself. Are you investing time in your business or spending time in your business?

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