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How to create an apprenticeship program from scratch — and why you should

Any savvy owner of a dealership or shop knows the value of recruiting and retaining skilled techs. Apprenticeship is a powerful, proven way to do this, and the data is in,” says Nicholas Wyman

Editor’s Note: Nicholas Wyman is CEO and founder of the IWSI Group, a global network and enterprise dedicated to matching job seekers with automotive careers through apprenticeships. The company has designed programs for BMW Australia and “Nissmap” for the Nissan Motor company, as well as set up international scholarships where apprentices get to visit state of the art automotive dealerships such as Mercedes Benz of Louisville. He can be reached at nwyman@iwsiamerica.org

Even in uncertain times, the demand for qualified auto technicians is still on the rise and continues to outpace the available pool of talent, a trend that has been in play since 2009.

The technical knowledge and skills needed for success in the aftermarket industry are changing rapidly. Increased digitization, automation, and the move toward electric and green technologies demand revamped, adapted, and new skills — not only for technicians but across the industry, including sales, marketing and technical support.

Nicholas Wyman, CEO and founder of the IWSI Group

Modern workers need to have a broad, agile set of skills that they can continually upgrade, and “Modern Apprenticeship” is one of the best ways to make this happen.

A Modern Apprenticeship is a work-based training program aimed at preparing individuals of any age to meet sophisticated talent needs. Key components of a Modern Apprenticeship include:

  • Supervised, paid on-the-job training
  • Wages graduated in step with skills gained
  • Related classroom instruction at reduced or no cost
  • Formalized mentoring and coaching
  • Industry credentials or technical certification earned for demonstrating achievement competencies

As much in demand as auto techs are, it’s unfortunately also true that many technicians are dissatisfied in their work. Carlisle & Co’s most recent Automotive Technician Survey found that only 27 percent of respondents were satisfied in their current job and most would not recommend their job to a friend.

More than a third said they expect to leave their dealership within the next two years. Reasons for dissatisfaction included inadequate or no pay for work completed, lack of necessary tools and poor tool inventory management. Although many said they looked forward to working with electric vehicles, only 14 percent had any significant training on them.

Any savvy owner of a dealership or shop knows the value of recruiting and retaining skilled techs. Apprenticeship is a powerful, proven way to do this, and the data is in. A Case Western Reserve study on the benefits and costs of apprenticeship from a business perspective found that apprenticeship:

  • Reduced turnover and increased employee loyalty, thus significantly reducing training and recruitment costs
  • Improved companies’ overall performance 
  • Provided a competitive advantage in the marketplace 
  • Brought value through the much-enhanced productivity of apprentices 
  • Enabled workers to better integrate into their business’s culture and develop greater leadership potential 
  • Built a bench of highly qualified workers and future managers with demonstrated skills, experience, and strong work ethics 
  • Diversified their workforce
  • Improved employee engagement, problem-solving skills, and flexibility in performing a variety of tasks, while reducing the need for supervision

David Peterson, dealer principal of multiple dealerships throughout the U.S., has been in the auto business for more than 40 years. On an overseas study tour just before the pandemic, Peterson took a deep dive into why some models of apprenticeship are so successful at training and placing technicians.

The key, he found, was “a commonsense combination of a unique curriculum, a strong emphasis on life skills needed by someone launching a new career, and slow but methodical introduction of the new technician to the workplace.”

Another important ingredient, he said, is that the candidate and the dealership management team had been chosen by mutual agreement — in other words, finding the right fit between team and technician. Petersons research has culminated in the launch of the Automotive Apprenticeship Group (AAG) that will help companies hire apprentices.

Modern Apprenticeships aren’t just exclusive to technicians. They’re extremely versatile and can be implemented to train sales reps, customer service professionals, HR and marketing pros — just about any job you can think of in the aftermarket industry.

Modern Apprenticeship isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, every business and enterprise will need to tailor their program. There are, however, fundamental characteristics that define Modern Apprenticeships, including formalized mentorship and achievable training goals which are measured regularly and paired with scalable wages as the apprentice gains competency.

As a blueprint to launching a Modern Apprenticeship program, here are 10 fundamental steps that can be tailored to any enterprise:

  1. Identify the apprentice-able occupation
  2. Engage an internal team, including people from direct service, middle management, and leadership, to formulate and implement the program
  3. Identify and engage external partnerships. Consider community colleges, high schools, civic and nonprofit organizations, and state apprenticeship organizations
  4. Identify mentors and coaches, internally and externally
  5. Outline candidate qualifications
  6. Identify achievable core competencies
  7. Create on-the-job training goals (performance measures) and related curricula
  8. Determine training and scalable wage schedules
  9. Establish marketing and recruitment strategies
  10. Develop ongoing evaluation processes based on feedback and outcomes

The Modern Apprenticeship is an achievable, forward-thinking way to build a pipeline of skilled talent that will define the future of the aftermarket industry.

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