It is an unfortunate axiom in business that when the going gets tough you
cut departmental budgets. Two departments that are always first up on
the block are training and quality. Common sense tells us that these are
the absolute last places to make cuts.
It would make far more sense to go to every department and arbitrarily
remove two layers of management. People who are dumping their work on
others, creating little kingdoms whose measure of success is number of
staff, would be forced to produce with fewer people stumbling all over
Streamlining management would speed the flow of work through the organization
exponentially. It is sad that common sense is so seldom applied.
Untrained workers are a liability. This is fact. To allow them to continue
to be untrained or intentionally withhold training to enhance the dealership's
bottom line, is worse than ignorant, it borders on the criminal.
Out there at the dealership, we are at the mercy of the people who work
on our car. In the world of modern auto mechanics - we call them technicians
now - lack of training is the source of astonishing inefficiencies, lost
and or totally infuriated customers, major warranty costs for manufacturers
and occasionally, loss of life.
If you are saying, "it can't be that bad." Think again.
The need for well-trained auto mechanics, or technicians, if you prefer,
is a national problem and it isn't getting better despite auto mechanic
schools springing up in every town and city.
More in the common sense department: Thousands of Lemon vehicles are replaced
or refunded every year. Many of these cars had problems so complex that
the technicians at the dealership couldn't correctly diagnose and
repair them. You imagine that because it is a large dealership, there
must be people trained to repair what they sell. This assumption is as
defective as the cars they cannot repair. The manufacturer must shoulder
part of the problem to be sure. It is, after all, their responsibility
to ensure that their dealerships personnel receive training on each new
The need for auto mechanics is so desperate in some parts of the country,
dealerships offer auto mechanics who are tech school graduates, substantial
signing bonuses, like a high school baseball pitcher phenon from Bakersfield.
Admittedly it isn't in the millions. Large car dealerships will happily
pay the tuition of technical school students as long as they can get them
when they graduate. It's a complex problem.
Here are some of the key factors that add to this complexity:
• Older mechanics are leaving the industry to take up other work.
It's just too hard to stay trained, to keep up.
• The pressures of working in a modern dealership begin to outweigh
the benefits, especially when any technician with an ounce of decency
finds his integrity being compromised at every turn.
• The equipment to service the modern automobile is incredibly expensive.
A modern diagnostic machine may cost $20,000 or more, and keep in mind
this machine will only work with one, or at best, a few model vehicles.
Every day, all across the United States, independent auto repair shops
are closing for the simple reason they can't afford to purchase the
equipment needed to work on the modern, computer-managed automobile. Even
if they could afford the machines, they can't find anyone trained
in their use.
• Many older mechanics fear and loathe technology; they don't
want to work on anything that has a computer in it (that's every new
car manufactured for the past ten years).
• Technical school graduates in auto maintenance technology often
switch to other jobs in computer fields that don't require them to
crawl around under vehicles: all that dirt and grease you know.
• Technician retention is a serious problem. Because of the competition
for a well-trained technician, dealerships must offer more money and benefits
to keep these special employees. The turnover rate at dealerships is far
higher than most equivalent sized organizations in other industries.
• The flat rate pay system drives mechanics and dealerships alike
to cheat. It is problem of altered time. The customer is getting the least
possible time devoted to his or her problems, while the technician bills
the maximum allowable hours. The technician is encouraged to do this by
the dealership as a declared efficiency factor. It's money for the
dealership of course.
• There is so much to learn with new models coming out every year
the technicians can't keep up. And now it isn't just mechanical
systems, it is also software and the electronic integration of all the
automobiles electro-mechanical systems. Somewhere along the way this work
went from blue-collar to white collar, from grease to pocket protector
geek. But, Mothers and Dads aren't encouraging their sons and daughters
to go into the automotive maintenance field because they still think it
is a low level job. It's a shame really, as it can pay quite well
and it is a profession requiring a high degree of knowleddge.
• Dealerships cut training hours the minute the bottom line looks
as if it is in trouble.
Considering all these factors, it is surprising anyone would want to enter
the industry at all. The profession of automobile repair technician has
become a white-collar job in a blue-collar world. Here's another factor,
which may seem more opinion that fact. The typical auto mechanic or technician
doesn't get much respect. For a variety of reasons auto mechanics
are not held in high repute, professionally. The average car owner when
talking about his or her mechanic is a skeptic: suspicious, fearful and
ready to do violence. The average citizen speaks of his mechanic in terms
usually reserved for politicians and perverts. This response is both unfair
and inaccurate. It is definitely emotional.
There is a reason for this. Joe Citizen's reaction to his mechanic
is not simply bad judgment or perversity. People react to events in direct
proportion to their affect on survival. How important is a car to your
survival? In Los Angeles, it is as important as food. How well the car
works absolutely affects quality of life. There's a lot of emotion
associated with survival.
These attitudes are not entirely unwarranted. Remember how you felt when
you bought your first new car? There was excitement, the pleasure of having
done an adult thing, made and saved enough money to make one of the largest
purchases an American can make. And the satisfaction of owning a new car:
"New"! This is very special indeed.
As car owners, we have no way of knowing that the technician working on
our car was never trained on the vehicle's electronic system. The
flat-rate mechanics pay system encourages the technician to work as fast
as possible, not as well as possible. The following quote has really meaning here.
"People forget how fast you did a job--but they remember how well
you did it." -- Anonymous
The service writer doesn't verify the skills of the technician he or
she assigns to do the work. So when the Electronic Control System computer
fails through poor design, or a software fault, and the technician changes
out some other component, like the emission control valve, the owner leaves
thinking everything is all right. Then before the owner gets home, the
vehicle manifests the same problem. This is called "betrayal after
trust", and nothing is more likely to enrage a buyer. When the owner
looks around for someone to abuse, shoot, whatever the level of his anger
demands, and naturally he focuses on the technician. Training is not something
one does because it looks good in an advertisement.
If we deliver on time, but the product has defects, we have not delivered on time.
Philip Crosby Let's Talk Quality, 1989
What will we get from the untrained technician/mechanic? We get the car
back but it isn't fixed. If this continues, it is a betrayal of our
trust, plain and simple. It certainly wouldn't be out of line for
the consumer to ask about the training of the technician who works on
our car. We'd want to know if the doctor cutting holes in our body
were trained. Keep in mind that a defective lemon vehicle might put unrepairable
holes in your body.
Visit Norman Taylor & Associates for information about the