Who Trains the Trainers? Keeping the Training Team Running

March 31, 2017
The Latin phrase “quis custodiet ipsos custodes” translates roughly to “who will guard the guards,” and it is one that is meant to question government or political overreach; however, for the auto service industry it reminds us we must consider “who will train the trainers?” As vehicles become more complex and new products are introduced, it means those on the floor have to be trained, but trainers, too, have to learn somewhere. In many industries, it is often a not-so-subtle insult to suggest that those who “can’t” instead “teach.” However, in the world of service, where training is ongoing,

The Latin phrase “quis custodiet ipsos custodes” translates roughly to “who will guard the guards,” and it is one that is meant to question government or political overreach; however, for the auto service industry it reminds us we must consider “who will train the trainers?” As vehicles become more complex and new products are introduced, it means those on the floor have to be trained, but trainers, too, have to learn somewhere.

In many industries, it is often a not-so-subtle insult to suggest that those who “can’t” instead “teach.” However, in the world of service, where training is ongoing, having an experienced trainer is crucial — and that trainer needs a certain skill set.

“First, a trainer needs to have training and dedication to perfect procedure,” said Lenny Saucier, director of Training at Take 5 Oil Change. “Without this, they cannot function in the education role. They must also be trained in public speaking and leadership. It is not easy to get up and present as an expert; it comes from knowledge and body language as much as speaking and presenting. For a final touch, you need to understand people and personalities, so you can teach and mold to everyone.”

Many businesses embrace a so-called train-the-trainer model, which enables experienced personnel to show a less-experienced instructor how to deliver information to other employees. This model allows companies to build a pool of competent instructors who can teach the skills and procedures to others.

This is an improvement over a system where employee A trains employee B who, in turn, trains employee C. Such a system lends itself to issues, as procedures are missed along the way. Instead, having a dedicated trainer can help ensure incoming employees are all taught their appropriate skills correctly.

“A lot of organizations don’t invest in this,” said Owen Davis, managing director of TrainingFolks, an international training and development company. “You could have an assistant manager or high performer who is set up to be the person who does training. Trainers need to be subject matter experts.”

Becoming a good trainer can require learning certain skills.

“These can include skills such as how to deliver an effective presentation, how to design a workshop that will be interactive and interesting and how to be a great listener,” explained Kathy Cuff, senior consulting partner at the Ken Blanchard Companies, a firm devoted to corporate training. “There are also some inherent skills I believe a trainer must have to be truly effective. These would be things like having passion for the subject matter, truly caring about your audience, wanting to serve them and the ability to make the learning fun!”

Davis added trainers need to have certain skills, but they don’t need to know everything.

“They don’t need to be experts on the entire operation, just as every employee doesn’t need to know how to do everything,” Davis said. “Good trainers may need to be responsible for a few key procedures, and that is a very solid strategy for companies.”

Having a good trainer, or trainers, is crucial too for operations with multiple locations. Just as this type of trickle-down training method can leave gaps in a single location, it can also have dire consequences if used across franchises.

“Having a good trainer that can work in different locations helps resolve different shops doing things differently,” Davis said. “Otherwise, the quality of the outputs across locations can be different.”

Mentoring and Monitoring Those employees who are set up to be trainers need the same direction as any other employee, and possibly even more, according to Deven Bhagwandin, a professional trainer in the service industry and author of the B2B blog “Serviceable.”

“In my experience, even though an employee is given the responsibility of training other employees, it’s a good idea as a manager or owner to constantly monitor the trainers,” Bhagwandin explained. “If the trainer is instructing employees correctly, good habits and practices are formed that enhance service and the business. Inversely, if the trainer is not teaching skills and practices correctly, the business can, and will, be affected negatively.”

Finding the right person to be a trainer shouldn’t just come down to seniority. Just as shops find the right person to be manager based on one’s skill set, the same emphasis on abilities should be used to determine who will become a trainer. From this, a trainer can grow only if given the proper guidance.

“Having strong and proactive management is how the trainer learns the skills,” Bhagwandin said. “In the service industry, being promoted to a trainer position is a step away from being promoted to full management. When an employee displays exceptional skills and service, critical thinking and the desire to do things correctly, I would approach them to offer the opportunity.”

One important point in training the trainer is that not everyone is cut out for the job, and trying to make someone into a team trainer is akin to forcing a square peg into a round hole.

“When you pick the trainer, it really starts with the characteristics they have and what they bring to the table,” said Frank Brandenberg, chairman of Auto-Lab Complete Car Care Centers. “They need experience so they have credibility with the staff, but they also need to know how to share the information they have.”

Trainers should also listen to those on the shop floor, as well — as a good trainer should be a good listener, noted Cuff, who also the co-author of the book “Legendary Service — The Key is to Care.” “Trainers can absolutely learn from their employees. Anytime I am teaching a workshop, I encourage the participants to ask questions, push back on something if they don’t understand or don’t agree and share their experiences because we all learn from each other.”

Team Effort Oilstop, Inc. takes the role very seriously and gives its assistant store managers the title, team training manager (TTM), and the responsibilities that come with it.

“It is the TTM who has the responsibility for training the staff,” said Gary Woo, Marketing director at Oilstop Inc. “Training at Oilstop is an ongoing, never-ending process. We are currently moving all of our training materials — manuals, videos, quizzes and tests — online to a learning management system, which will make it more effective, among other things, for TTMs to manage each staff member’s progress toward three certifications. Staff, including management, will be able to access training materials from any device, and we can push new content up any time it’s necessary.”

These TTMs also know they can turn to their fellow employees, and many of them may have specific skills.

“My job is to pass down the knowledge I gather from the shop floor to others, so future employees and staff members can then surpass me,” said Ernest Banks, who acts a TTM at the Tucson-based Oilstop. “We have a wealth of knowledge in our shops, and by interacting with the staff, I learn the skills I need to pass on to others.”

Oilstop takes this a step further, as well, by ensuring the trainers also get other training from the corporate level.

“I go from store to store to help ensure everyone knows how to effectively do their jobs, including working with the team training managers,” said Josh Hansen, Oilstop’s new corporate trainer. “It is a never-ending process, because there are always new vehicles and new equipment, and we’re always striving to be more productive and more efficient. We can’t stand still, and training is a big part of our moving forward.”

One other facet of training the trainers is to ensure what worked yesterday still works today and that it keeps working tomorrow. When it stops working, it is time to change. Just as business evolves, so too must training.

“We made a fundamental change in the way we train,” Saucier said. “For years, trainers were designed to train new hires. It has been a complete joy to watch so many new hires become fantastic managers, district managers and trainers.”

Take 5 Oil Change actually added training to managers’ repertoires a few years ago, and now, this is providing assistant managers and store managers with tools to train employees. “Training is on-going, so it should not stop when the trainer leaves the floor,” Saucier said. “If you teach your management staff how to train, everyone can be successful.” The training never stops at Take 5 Oil Change.

“This group is constantly going through training themselves — from oil and product knowledge training, to ways to train to how to be a better person,” Saucier explained. “They retake every certification every year and go through presentations with each other to better themselves.”

Outside Effort One other important facet of training is it isn’t just employees, managers or even in-house team trainers who should be doing the teaching or the sharing of information. Many vendors, suppliers and equipment makers also provide opportunities, including seminars that offer training to businesses.

“We see this a lot from the equipment suppliers and the program suppliers,” Brandenberg said. “If we are rolling out something new from a parts supplier, that supplier provides the training to understand it, and it is crucial we take the opportunity to work with them.”

Brandenberg added that suppliers will often come to corporate headquarters and that having managers or other trainers from the shops in attendance ensures each location is up-to-speed. “That trainer must fall back and use that product or program live in shop,” Brandenberg said. “It only adds to his or her credibility with the other employees.”

This can put some demands on the TTMs, but for Banks it ensures he can do his job, which includes training his fellow employees.

“For me, it means attending monthly meetings, where we bring up issues and situations we’ve faced,” Banks said. “A lot of this is hands on, but as a trainer, I have to read up on the new oil types and fluid applications that are coming out. Mostly, for me, it is in-house, but we get information from conferences and other events, too. The vendors come to us, and it is my job to train the guys on the floor to do their job.”

Training is something that should never stop. There will always be new cars, new equipment and new procedures. Ensuring the trainer is up-to-speed on these changes can ensure the techs on the floor aren’t left behind, either.

“As a member of management, it should be part of your daily or weekly duties to assess how well employees are being taught and address any issues that may arise,” Bhagwandin said. “Training, in any industry, is an ongoing process. One should never assume they’ve learned everything.”

Point of Sale: Training Off the Floor One facet of training that can often be overlooked in many quick lube shops is getting employees up-to-speed on the point of sale (POS) systems. It is forgotten, and even when training occurs, it can be an afterthought. This is why having a solid trainer, who remains up-to-speed on the systems is important.

“That may be historically true, but it isn’t as accurate in all industries,” said Stephen Barram, CEO of Integrated Services, Inc., which provides POS systems to many industries. “It is something that is very much on the management side of life.”

ISI not only ensures it provides detailed training the first time its software is used in a business, but also that its customers have at least one employee who can share the information with others.

“In a smaller organization, it tends to be someone in a management level who has a proclivity to technology and becomes the contact and trainer,” Barram said. “That is typical today, as POS systems have propagated throughout small business.”

Even in medium-sized companies, Barram said usually a few key individuals will be deemed the POS experts.

“From our standpoint, we would typically put those people through some additional training, and depending on the system, it can get to the point where they can get specific certifications with some systems,” Barram explained. “Periodically, there will be updates and upgrades, and those individuals may be flown out to us for a two to three day update on our systems.”

Depending on the complexity of the systems, the training can be a few hours, or as Barram noted, even a couple of days.

Because POS software can evolve as quickly — possibly even more so — than the technical components in a vehicle, training with it is also important.

“The shop’s POS is regularly receiving minor tweaks and updates to run more efficiently and accommodate the needs of our industry,” explained Ash Bullard, vice president of Sales and Marketing at PM Attendant. “A quarterly review of what tools are new and an assessment of how the system is being used would allow a shop to make sure they are taking full advantage of the powerful asset they are paying for.”

Bullard added that having a dedicated trainer puts the responsibility of staying on top of best practices for a POS on one person.

Bullard added, “When everyone is learning their own way of using a system, or using a new system like they used a previous one, they will not be getting the most out of their POS.”

About the Author

Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is Michigan-based writer and NOLN freelance contributor who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He lives in the land of cars not far from one of Henry Ford's estates.