Empty Seats

With many staffs being reduced these days and shops running leaner, I have noticed it has become more and more difficult to fill my classes or even keep classes from being cancelled due to low enrollment. Most of the feedback I get is that the shop "just can't spare the technician right now." While this is understandable from the standpoint of pure head count, there are ways to reduce these occurrences and still get your technicians trained.

One of the key components of any fleet's training strategy is to plan ahead. When training opportunities are announced only a few weeks in advance of the event, it is unlikely you'll get the participation you are seeking. Schedule training at least two months or more in advance, and treat the pending employee absence as you would vacation days. With the summer months upon us, you have no doubt already put backup plans in place to cover an employee's vacation time. Training time should be treated no differently.

You should also set up a system for providing regular reminders about upcoming training. With the daily grind of doing the work of two or three people, it is easy to forget about a pending training event. You can use Outlook or similar program to provide reminders at 30 days out, 15 days out, etc.

There are exceptions where an employee absolutely must be withdrawn from a class, but these should be due to rare, unforeseen events only. You certainly don't want to sacrifice customer service if losing the employee at the time of training would adversely affect it. But keep in mind that customer service is also adversely affected by having fleet unavailable, possibly causing late deliveries or the inability to show up at a job site on time. Vehicles and equipment that break down on the job are also sure to cause customer complaints!

Training to fill employee skill and knowledge gaps is even more essential when staffs are being reduced. Leaner shops mean every employee must be working at peak proficiency. In the long run, keeping your employees properly trained will make your fleet more prepared and more competitive when the economic situation improves.

It is easy these days to see training as a "luxury" rather than an ongoing necessity. But as one of my regional managers recently asked, "What is the cost of one missed revenue opportunity that could have been prevented with additional training?"

Stephen Howe is employed by United Rentals, the largest equipment rental company in the world, with nearly 700 branches in North America. Stephen is also a past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council (ATMC), a global, non-profit organization of over 60 member companies dedicated to recognizing training excellence and raising training standards in the automotive, heavy vehicle and related industries.