Is training an expense or an investment?

by | Mar 26, 2020 | 0 comments

Labour has been the largest cost of most businesses, for as long as there have been businesses. But for many years, some business owners see labour as little more than a necessary evil and an expense – in fact, their largest expense. Some shop owners are always looking to cut costs, pay as little as possible, and try to avoid paying for things that, in their view, don’t produce an immediate payback, such as training.

I often get asked, “What is the average wage of a technician or advisor?” To me, what the owner is really asking is, what is the best employee they can get for the least amount of money. The result: shop owners complain about mediocre employees, when in fact they have gotten exactly what they have paid for.

I usually respond by asking them what is the exact position they are looking to fill, and what that position pays. I usually get a lot of blank stares. Very few shop owners have considered in detail what a given job opening looks like, whether for a technician, an apprentice, a service advisor or a manager.

Here’s what you should consider, before you go looking for candidates.

  1. What are the results the position is required to achieve?
  2. What are the outcomes the position creates?
  3. What are the aptitudes needed by that position?
  4. What are the duties required of that position?
  5. What are the skills and certifications required by that position?
  6. What does that position pay?

Then, and only then, should you advertise for a particular person to fill that position.

Furthermore, as part of the position, there will be training requirements. Each position should have a training plan and a dollar budget attached to it. The person hired for that position should clearly understand what is expected of them, including the amount of training they are required to attend.

Allocating a preplanned amount of money and time for this eliminates surprises and, at least, won’t cause financial pain if an employee decides to work elsewhere after you have paid for their training. If the position is clearly defined, the pay and training are budgeted for, and you manage that position well, it should make you a profit from day one. So if that employee leaves, they owe you nothing.

Recently I had a discussion with a shop owner who was clearly resentful when this happened. “I feel that I was used by that apprentice,” he said, “just so they could get certified and move on to greener pastures.”

My immediate question was, why did they feel they needed to move on to greener pastures – weren’t yours green enough? (What I really felt like saying was, “How little did you pay them, and how badly did you treat them as an apprentice, that they felt they had to leave as soon as they were certified?”)

Let’s examine why employees leave after a certain period of time, training, or experience.

  1. They are young, and the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence. I don’t think this is the main reason, but it is a reality. Young people want to try new things, and I think they should; it makes them better people and better employees.
  • (Here is the main reason I see.) Shop owners deliberately underpay enthusiastic young people, who love cars and want to learn how to work on them. After four years of apprenticing in those conditions, who wouldn’t leave? I have actually heard shop owners agonizing over giving a freshly minted Red Seal tech a raise, because they themselves never made that kind of money back when they first got their licence.
Murray Voth, RPM Training Automotive Service garage shop management training
Murray Voth, RPM Training
  • (Here’s the second main reason.) The apprentice finishes school, completes their hours and gets their Red Seal certification. They are proud and excited by that, and want to take more training and keep expanding. But once they are licensed, the boss just wants them to get back to the shop and produce, so that he can recoup all of the losses of having an apprentice, never mind paying for more training. (By the way, most studies in Canada find that you earn at least $1.45 for every $1 you invest in an apprentice.) The newly minted technician leaves for a shop that provides ongoing training.

To the question, “What if I train them and they leave?”, the obvious answer is, “What if you don’t and they stay?” I understand the need to be able to get the full benefit of the training and time you put into each of your employees. But loyalty is a two-way street.

To quote a great shop owner on Vancouver Island, “It is my job as the owner to make sure the good employees want to stay, and the bad employees want to leave.” Two of his technicians started as green apprentices 20 years ago, and are still with him. Sounds like a pretty good investment to me.


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