A successful technician is always learning. But a successful profession is one where the learning is shared among the technicians, said a shop coach.
For technicians to be at the top of their game, they need to enjoy school — there’s a lot to learn and continue learning throughout your career. Technical training is a constant.
“Isn’t that also kind of ironic?” chucked Maylan Newton, a shop coach and chief executive officer of Educational Seminars Institute. “Because most of us were sent to a shop … because we weren’t just studious, right? Reading, writing, arithmetic wasn’t our thing, right? We were kind of pushed towards shop class because we weren’t going to be the literary geniuses.”
But a lot of learning happens in the shop as well, he pointed out during a session he hosted at the recent Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario Symposium, whether it comes from the shop owner or the lead technician. At least, it needs to happen there.
“Being a teacher is difficult. You got to have patience, you got to be a good communicator. You can’t point in grunt. And for a lot of these, a lot of us — the old guys — we’re not good at that. It’s a skill set that a lot of us don’t have,” Newton, a former shop owner, said.
And there’s a reluctance to pass on a lot of knowledge. “And we also have a lot of bias … [many technicians are not] very open; protecting [their] territory thinking that ‘I’m going to teach him everything I know [and] he’s going to take my job for me,’” Newton observed. “I might be a little hostile. And so that changes my willingness to teach.”
“They want to fix cars. They want to learn and apply what they’ve learned in school or their training and we’re going ‘No, you got to start like I did — you have to wash parts for 392 years — and then I’ll let you think about touching a car.’ And they don’t last.”
He acknowledged he was a little abnormal and wanted to see his colleagues excel. “I want you to be the smartest guy in the room and I want you to far exceed my expectations. But really, that’s not most of our industry, right?”
There are also issues around treating apprentices as cheap labour. They’re the ones sweeping floors. As one attendee pointed out, they could be shadowing a tech but the shop owner pulls them away to tidy up. They want to learn but are being sent away. They get frustrated and leave the industry. And it’s a wonder why it’s hard to attract and retain.
“They want to fix cars. They want to learn and apply what they’ve learned in school or their training and we’re going ‘No, you got to start like I did — you have to wash parts for 392 years — and then I’ll let you think about touching a car.’ And they don’t last,” Newton said.
His advice: when you find someone with the brains and the hands who wants to be part of an industry, do whatever you can to keep them. They can get a career anywhere — as a carpenter, a plumber or with NASA. So if they’re being pushed away, they’ll easily leave to those other industries that are also looking for the exact same person.