Automotive Service Technicians Go High-Tech

By the year 2000, there were about 217 million vehicles on the road in the U.S., traveling 2.5 trillion miles, and consuming 160 billion gallons of gasoline. In light of these figures from the Center for Automotive Research, how could you not consider a career in the ever-expanding automotive industry?

Need more convincing? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, automotive service technicians held about 803,000 jobs in 2004, and demand for technicians will only increase as the number of multi-car families continues its upward trend.

And, median hourly earnings of automotive service technicians, including commission, are $15.60 (the highest 10 percent earn more than $26.22 per hour). In addition, many experienced technicians receive a commission related to the labor cost, and employers often guarantee commissioned technicians a minimum weekly salary.

So the growth of the automotive service profession is not surprising — today’s technicians are high-tech professionals, working on complex vehicles with global positioning systems, Internet access, and alternate-fuel systems. Their work goes beyond traditional repairs and involves inspecting, maintaining, and repairing automobiles with electronic as well as traditional hand tools.
Since cars are more computer-controlled than ever before (according to the Center for Automotive Research, the average vehicle contains between 40 and 50 microprocessors), automotive service technicians need the intensive career preparation offered by automotive service technician schools.

The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology and the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certify a number of automotive service technician schools, which may offer general education courses as well as employable skills such as customer service and stress management.

Certification is the next step after completing coursework at automotive service technician schools. Voluntary certification by ASE is the standard credential in the automotive industry. You can get certified in one or more of eight areas of automotive service, including electrical systems, engine repair, brake systems, suspension and steering, and heating and air-conditioning. If you want to become certified as a master automobile technician, you need to be certified in all eight areas.

Job opportunities are expected to be excellent for those who graduate from automotive service technician schools and become certified. Even through downturns in the economy, the effects on the automotive industry are minimal.

Rev up your high-tech career with hands-on training from automotive service technician schools.

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It seems to be a universally asked question, whether you run the service department at a large dealership, or the local 4 bay repair shop. How do you know when you have just the right amount of technicians employed? Regardless of how you pay them, if you have too many, you have idle hands, otherwise known as the “devil’s playground”. If there are too few, your technicians are overworked, causing incomplete check outs and possible quality issues.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume all of your technicians are flat rate employees, which is basically a fancy way of saying they are paid for the work they do and not the hours they are present. Whatever labor guide you use gives you the billable hours for the repair you are going to perform. For example, your customer’s check engine light came on. Most shops charge a diagnostic fee, assuming, of course, that more than a simple computer scan is required. The labor guide calls for 1 hour. The diagnostic routine shows that the engine is not reaching operating temperature, so it is determined that the thermostat is at fault. To replace the thermostat on this particular car calls for 1.0 hour of billable time, so the entire job pays 2.0 hours. Your more experienced technicians will typically beat this time, which is how they can turn more hours than they work. A rookie technician may take longer than two hours, though, which is how a customer is protected by the flat rate system. Otherwise, it would cost someone more to use inexperienced technicians than it would a professional!

Back to the subject at hand. In order to determine how many technicians you should employ, you will need to do some math. In most of my teaching, I always say to start with the end in mind, and then reverse engineer your way to the answer. In this particular case, let’s start by setting up the foundation of where you are currently.

1. Step one is to determine your productivity per billable hour. Basically, you take your total sales, including BOTH labor and parts, less tax, and divide that by the total number of billed hours. In the case of the thermostat above, let’s say the total repair cost is $300. Your billed hours were 2.0, so $300 divided by 2.0 is equal to your productivity of billable hours on this job, or $150. If you apply that logic to your whole operation for a full week, you will come up with a pretty reliable number to base the rest of your calculations on.

2. The next step is to determine where you are currently at. If you have been regularly turning $16,500 a week in sales, while billing a total of 110 hours, then your productivity of billable hours is $150. This is your starting point.

3. Now you need to determine where you want to go. You would really like to generate $1,000,000 in annual sales, and you know that in your case you have 50 working weeks a year, so that means you need to generate $20,000 a week ($1,000,000 / 50 = 20,000). This is your goal.

4. If you take your goal of $20,000 and subtract your starting point of $16,500, you are left with $3500 between where you are at and where you want to go. You can now divide that by your productivity of billable hours of $150, and what you get will be the number of hours you need to generate to get there! In this case, you need a technician who can turn 23 hours per week (3500 / 150 = 23.3). The way you move from where you are at to where you want to go is called your map, or your plan.

My suggestion at this point would be to look at the technicians you currently have. If you tweak your systems and make other improvements, could they turn the additional 23 hours? If the answer is yes, then make those changes so that your current crew can enjoy the benefits of your solid management skills. If the answer is no, then you need to find a technician that can, and in our business, finding a technician that can turn 23 hours is not that difficult.

One other train of thought, and one that has worked very well for me over the years, is that in a scenario like the one above, you hire a technician that can generate 35 or more hours. This now puts the pressure squarely on your shoulders to generate the business needed to keep all of your techs happy. But now let’s take a look at what happens. Your current staff was generating 110 billable hours at $150, or $16,500. You add a technician that turns 35 hours a week, and then you market your company to generate the additional business to cover the additional hours. You are now billing 145 hours at $150, or a total of $21,750 per week. Do this for 50 weeks and you now have a shop producing annual revenues of $1,087,500. You have exceeded your goal, or worse case scenario, you have given yourself a little breathing room. It is very important, though, for the sake of your technicians, that if you do this, you MUST do the marketing to generate new business within the next 30 days.

Your technicians trust you to help them provide for their families. If you are not going to get the additional business, either stick with a 20 hour tech, or plan on staying where you are.

Automotive Service Manger Training Process

Cars require regular maintenance and repairs. A mechanic does the physical work on the vehicle, but the service manager ensures that the dealerships service department is well run and managed. Automotive service manger training requires years. The manager needs skills gleaned from work experience, education, vocational training, and certifications in the automotive field.

Service managers are usually employed at a car dealership or a vehicle service operation. Budgeting is one of the chief responsibilities of the manager. They are charged with creating the operating budget, but also making sure the department stays within the budget parameters. They have to make sure costs remain within their projected expectations. They also have to set the goals in regards to profits. Quality assurance and the high ethical standards of the operation also fall under their purview. The manager is in charge of hiring and supervising employees, especially mechanics and technicians. It’s important that the manager make sure all employees are up to date in their training and applicable skills. This insures that customers are receiving the best service possible. They oversee everything that happens in the service department of a car dealership.

Both the service manager and general manager strive for the highest CSI or the Customer Satisfaction Index. Good customer satisfaction is the hallmark of a service department. These skills are an essential part of a managers training.

An ever-increasing number of people who are involved in an automotive service manger training process have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from a college or university. Suggested concentrations are in computers, automotive technology, electronics, mathematics, and business. Training can be done at a technical college, community college, or through a certification program.

There are a large number of academies and vocational schools that offer certifications in automotive service, many of which can be an asset to a service manager. Dealerships appreciate varying amounts of education, training, and experience when choosing a manager. Education and experience are equally important in a manager’s training and preparation.

The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence offers several professional certifications that boost an applicant’s qualifications. A well-qualified manager should have these certifications. Many service managers already have ASE Service Consultant certification prior to beginning their automotive service manger training. Having such a certification shows a solid understanding of how to perform vehicle repair and maintenance.

Technical knowledge is essential to the manager’s role in regards to quality assurance. They must know how the work is best performed and problems diagnosed, in order to be able to review and evaluate the work of technicians and mechanics. Ten to fifteen years of experience in the field of automotive technology and mechanics prior to becoming a service manager is an industry expectation.