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Six ways top shops work with schools and students

Shops don’t always have to approach a school with grand gestures — the main idea is to get involved and show you care about the students and want to help their program

Mount Horeb, Wis.—If shops are waiting until graduation to reach out to schools, it’s already too late. Shops need to make it a priority to get involved as soon as possible, and continue building relationships and stay involved in schools.

Ask schools what they need to make their program successful, and be a resource to help the future of the automotive, diesel, and collision industries. In the following, Jay Goninen of WrenchWay lays out the six ways top shops work with schools and students.

1. Provide Hands-On Training and Mentorship Programs For Students

It’s important for students to have someone they can look up to and ask questions. Being the new kid in the shop is hard enough. It’s important that a shop makes a students’ time in the shop as stress-free as possible.

Allow students to come into the shop a few times a week to get hands-on training. Students can only learn so much in the classroom, so providing a hands-on experience in a shop gives students a real feel of what it’s like to work in a shop and decide if this industry is the best choice for them.

“We have an apprenticeship program, and students can come in and work part time while they are in school. It’s a paid internship, so they’ll get paid to work side by side with our technicians. We have them assigned to master technicians who get paid as well.”

Robert Hamer, director of Human Resources, Ron Marhofer Auto Family

2. Offer Up Shop Tours

When a student is picking a career path, it’s hard to imagine what an average day on the job might look like. By offering students an opportunity to visit a shop, they can visualize what it would be like for them to work there. They can see a real day-in-the-life of a technician.

When students visit a shop, allow them to really get into the shop and experience it. Show them the real jobs technicians are working on and the cool cars coming in. Let students talk with the technicians and hear about their experience in the shop and industry.

Offering to give shop tours to parents, as well as students, can make a big impact on parents’ perception of the industry. Shops not only need to show students this is a great industry to get into, but also parents. This is an opportunity for shops to shape parents’ perspectives of the industry in a positive light.

“Any time a school needs something they give us a call. Our doors are always open to them. They’ll bring students in to shadow, and see what we do. They see a completely different world and more opportunities.”

Tiffany Scherado, CFO and part-owner, Lifetime

3. Offer Tuition and/or Tool Reimbursement

As if getting an education wasn’t expensive enough, students will also need to buy tools. Offering a tool reimbursement program can be extremely helpful to students and new technicians joining the shop.

The hardest part of buying tools is the upfront cost. If a shop is able, offer a tool reimbursement plan where the shop buys the tools a new technician needs to be successful. Then, set up a pay plan for the technician to pay back the shop in smaller, interest-free payments.

It can also be of great value for shops to help pay for a portion of a student’s education. Shops can set up a plan for students allowing them to get a portion of their education paid for if they agree to come work at the shop after they graduate. This way the students get help paying for their education, and the shop will know they are hiring a smart and dedicated technician.

“We have a tool list of $1,500 that we feel you need to have to be successful in this role. We write the check for the tools and the technicians will pay us back over the next 12 months, interest free.”

Dan Sunderland, owner, Sun Motor Cars

4. Host a Parents Night

To get students on board, shops need to get parents on board. Provide parents with an opportunity to visit the shop, ask questions, see the facility, and see the knowledge and opportunities this industry can offer their son or daughter.

Most parents probably don’t know what it takes to be a technician. Break down the barriers and stereotypes some parents might have. The main idea is to show parents that their son or daughter has a bright and successful future if they choose to join this industry.

“I, personally, interview every prospective technician. They see it from the top, how much we care about their future. I offer for parents to come in for the second interview, and I know the parents appreciate that. Mom and Dad are a big part of the decision process, so we try to bring them into that decision.”

Dan Sunderland, owner, Sun Motor Cars

5. Join an Advisory Committee

A big part of building relationships with schools involves shops being an active member of an advisory committee. As a shop owner, get very involved in the meeting and build partnerships. Building partnerships within the advisory committee can open so many doors and connections down the road.

Don’t just show up to the meeting every couple months and leave. Be productive in the meetings. It helps to have a dedicated person from the shop attending all the meetings and networking to build relationships.

6. Visit Local Schools

One of the most efficient ways to build relationships with schools in the area is to get in contact with local instructors. Become a regular face the students see in the classroom and offer to come in, help students, and answer questions. If you don’t have time to visit the school often, reach out to the instructors to see if there is anything they need. Donate extra tools, old equipment, rags, or anything else the shop may need to help students.

Shops don’t always have to approach a school with grand gestures. The main idea is to get involved with the schools and show you care about the students and want to help their program. If shops are building relationships with schools, they’ll be the first ones they call when they have a smart, new student looking for a job.

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