LAYING THE FOUNDATION FOR A SUCCESSFUL CAREER PATH
Pfaff Autoworks’ training /mentoring program
The collision repair industry has seen a lot of change in the past 10 years. However, the one thing that has remained constant Is the need for good staff and technicians. I constantly hear from other shop owners that they can’t find experienced body or paint technicians and, surprisingly, most of these shops also don’t engage apprentices. If they do, they are often tasked with washing cars and cleaning the shop with no guarantee but many false promises for growth and experience.
At Pfaff Autoworks, we too have also fallen into this trap; it wasn’t until we cycled through several body technicians who just couldn’t seem to adapt to our way of doing things or really didn’t care about the quality of their work that we realized that we weren’t solving our problem. This realization was the catalyst for us to develop an in-house apprentice mentoring/training program that will allow us to accommodate all levels of apprentices and lay out a defined career path that would engage apprentices in a progressive learning experience.
Our apprentice mentoring program will see apprentices start off in one of two departments, depending on experience. An apprentice with no experience, or someone who wants to become an apprentice will usually start off in the detailing department. The goal for these apprentices is to prove to us they are reliable, can work on a team and show that they have an eye for detail. We will communicate up front to these apprentices that this is a six- to 12-month position. Apprentices that already have hands-on experience will often start in our express repair department and work under a senior technician along with two to three other apprentices of varying experience levels. During this stage, apprentices will learn basic operations, minor body repairs, plastic repairs, and plastic welding and prepping. Apprentices can spend six months to two years in this area.
The next step will see apprentices move on to work on a full production team. Here they will work alongside two senior licenced technicians and one other apprentice. They will be tasked with learning bench setups, complex body repairs, some minor pulling, welding and larger assemblies and to develop full vehicle repair plans. Apprentices will spend a year or up to potentially three years in this role, depending on their performance, but also depending on their level of schooling. They may leave during this period to go back to school to finish a formal apprenticeship program.
Once the apprentice has proven he or she is capable of working almost independently while maintaining the expected level of quality, they will be given the opportunity to complete the
apprenticeship under the guidance of our shop foreman. At this stage, the apprentice will learn to work on heavy hits with larger structural components, aluminum welding, bonding and riveting, as well as be exposed to some carbon fibre repairs. In addition, we engage apprentices at this stage into our manufacture certification program, in which they are enrolled to participate in one of the OEM programs, allowing them to work toward full certification.
Finally, after this last stage of training, the senior apprentice can work independently with little to no supervision and can prosper in a career as a licenced technician.
It is an ongoing commitment and a long road to train internally, but one that is rewarding and amazing to see young talent develop within our own program. It has created a positive culture of learning within our shop, both with the apprentices and master technicians, thus leading to a loyal and passionate team. We now have a waiting list of apprentices who want to join us!