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Opinion: The importance of professional tech training is growing

Published February 13, 2018

By Jeff Donaldson

Editor's note: Jeff Donaldson is the general manager and school director at Barnett Bicycle Institute in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Reading BRAIN's report on the latest NPD data should have given us all a couple of ah-ha moments. The report provides a foundation for a new conversation about the growing importance of service. The report cites small changes — overall sales down, service sales up. As a career mechanic, these small changes are very encouraging: If the overall income in bike shops is shrinking while service income is increasing, it means that service is seeing a larger share of importance within the full scope of a retailer's income. Please pardon some oversimplification here, but some repair shops were able to grow in 2017 and take a bite or two out of a $13 million pie. Exercising the logic can conclude that improving a service department's performance is a competitive opportunity.

How do we keep growing? One of the simplest answers is training. If you want to be competitive in anything, it isn't enough to do it, you must do it well. Having bike wizards on staff is a fallacy. The bicycle is a machine and it should be tuned and repaired procedurally. Mechanics can be trained in measurable and repeatable procedures, and that training will streamline processes, maximize the income-to-time spent on repair, and elevate the overall efficiency and baseline of quality of work that a repair shop produces. The endpoint here is that when a repair shop invests in a staff that has high quality training, that repair shop can expect to make more money.

On a slightly different arc, in the last several months here at Barnett Bicycle Institute, we are hearing from a growing number of shops that are having a difficult time finding qualified mechanics. We are also seeing that more of our graduates are already employed and not looking for job placement. This may be a good economic indicator, but it does present a problem that we all need to knuckle down on: workforce development. The future is coming, and it would be much better to be ready for it when it gets here.

While training currently-working mechanics is essential to ensure the health of our service departments now, our industry needs to look forward to the next generation. Training ground floor employees and supporting entry-level training programs is a smart move for sustainability. If your community is lucky enough to have a Project Bike Tech program, the solution is already there. Find that program and support it. These kids will be our workforce soon and having them supported through their program is essential to their professional development. Outside of high school vocational programs, look for training opportunities for your youngest, least experienced employees. The assemblers and flat-fixers of today will be the service managers of tomorrow.

There is a quiet stalemate happening around the question, 'who should shoulder the burden of training?' On one hand, in an economy where demand for talented employees is high, a mechanic that goes out of pocket to pay for training is making a smart investment to become more competitive. That investment will pay off. On the other hand, a retailer that provides training for its employees is proving that it is a progressive and healthy place to work, that it is interested in employee retention and in the professional development of its people. Additionally, the shop is showing its customers that it is serious about the value of quality service.

Which way is best? There are benefits to both angles, and I would encourage not nickel and diming the issue. The core point is that if service revenue growth continues, trained mechanics will be more in demand than ever. As industry professionals, adopting practices now to develop ourselves, our businesses, and our current and future workforce is critical.

 

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