Case Study: Drafting an Apprenticeship Program
While finding a technician these days is hard to do, finding one that is qualified for the job is an even more daunting task. So instead of searching aimlessly for technicians that had the whole package, Houska Automotive in Fort Collins, Colo., decided to build their own—that is, create their own apprenticeship program to train their future technicians for success at their shop. And to do so, two shop VPs—Jason Lightbody, vice president of tire and oil operations in the shop, and Jon Monks, vice president of the shop—teamed up to create a successful program that grows quality technicians.
Houska Automotive is a general auto repair shop, and while their overall goal is to create master technicians, their program helped create a path for the quick lube industry to gain quality lube techs, too.
While technicians were coming through the door, most, if not all, weren’t up to Houska Automotive’s standards. Candidates lacked basic knowledge, their skill sets were different from what they needed, and those coming from national chains weren’t as proficient at what they did as most of their own technicians.
“We weren’t able to judge people accurately, and we weren’t able to tailor to their skillset,” says Lightbody. “We have one guy right out of tech school and he didn’t know how to diagnose a vehicle.”
And while most programs out there are geared toward creating master technicians meant for full-service auto repair, few focus on creating quality lube technicians, something Lightbody and Monks believed was an essential step to becoming a quality technician.
Finding the Right Fit
To find the right fit, Monks scoured through other apprenticeship programs, while also looking at the shop’s goals. With their own apprenticeship program, Lightbody says it would allow the shop to be able to identify technicians as good candidates for their shop before officially being hired on full-time. For Houska’s program, the apprentices would be required to take certain classes and obtain certain licenses, first needing to master each aspect of a lube technician’s job first.
Training Quick Lube Masters
It may sound like a piece of cake, but Lightbody and Monks wanted to make sure these future technicians were valuable to their shop and the industry. Because of this, apprentices are required to master everything in quick lube, tire services, and diesel under Lightbody’s supervision before being admitted to the full apprenticeship program.
Techs go through six months of training and complete certifications outside of the shop for diesel—an eight-hour class through the state of Colorado, workbook training, and a written and hands-on test. Once they’ve proved themselves as quick lube and tire masters, they’re eligible for the program and become a top-level lube tech.
With this track, technicians can choose to stay as a lube technician or go onto become a full ASE technician. If they choose to move on, apprentices will spend two months in each section of the shop—a total of eight, to be exact—and will work under Monks on all things auto repair.
Now that they had the program laid out and put in place, the shop needed to get the word out. Lightbody says it’s mainly been through word-of-mouth. They told all of their vendors and sales reps about it and encouraged their staff to spread the message.
At least each person in the industry knows five to 10 others in the industry, too, Lightbody says, so the program has been able to get around local technical colleges and other big chain companies. The shop even presented the program to their 20 Groups and consulting company Elite Worldwide. Now, Lightbody says top shops in the country have looked at their curated program. So far, six apprentices have gone through the program, with two going on to work for quick lube facilities.
With its success over the past three years, Lightbody says they are still adjusting the program, but over the years, they have provided a hub for apprentices to become quality technicians and choose their career path, creating an outlet for the quick lube industry to attract new talent.