In this issue we will focus on maintaining normalcy during the pandemic and how tools, equipment and training can assist your business to keep moving forward into the future.
COVID-19 times are amongst us again and many members ask what they should do different because of COVID-19. This can be broken down into three categories:
- Don’t attempt to do something that is not your usual business model.
The terms ‘business as usual’ are the most important part. Over the years you have built a clientele base that is very happy with your products and services. Now is not the time to experiment, now is the time to work with your existing clientele and have them come back as repeat business.
- Communicate with your customer.
Let them know what you are doing to protect your staff and their motor vehicle. We have said this before, but yet members fail to go out of their way to reassure their customer base that they know the best way to protect all parties. Today, so much is done on the internet, it is not funny, and you find in COVID-19 times consumers will resort to the internet where they have never gone before for advice. These consumers may go onto your website to check whether you are open and need to be told that not only are you open for business as usual, but how you will protect their property and hygiene. I only just had a recent discussion with the AAAA where we agreed the consumer just needs reassurance, that you understand the ramifications of COVID-19 and how you are sticking by the rules.
- Don’t tackle something which you do not have experience with.
Although we say that it is business as usual for many shops, there are some exemptions and these shops/suppliers are not working and not able to assist with new projects, parts or equipment. I will give you the example in the performance side of our business where a lot of shops see good money being spent by the younger generation on performance modifications. In regular times this might be a niche business decision that you make to transform your business into a performance precinct. However, during COVID-19 times, not all performance warehouses are open and in certain areas performance tuning is not recognized as an essential service. Just remember, all LGAs across Australia, if they are under restrictions may have a different set of do’s and don’ts applicable to that area. Certainly, restoration work in panel shops and high-performance dyno tuning has been two areas that were forced to close in a large number of areas because they were simply deemed not essential.
In regard to equipment and tooling in shops, it looks like we all believe that our early tools need to be looked after like a museum piece. I can assure many prior to COVID-19 – when I did the last audit – I found a plum bob and a piece of chalk very clean, very neat, very tidy, in a toolbox.
When I questioned what that was for, it was in case they had to do a chassis drop. I don’t remember having to do one of those since my apprenticeship in the ‘70s. We have car aligners and wheel aligners that are infinitely more practical and accurate than climbing under a car with a piece of chalk. I am not saying it is not a good skill or tool to have in your training arsenal, but today it is just not practical. If you suspect the chassis is bent, get it thoroughly checked by one of the electronic means.
It brings me to the point of tools. Our tooling really needs to change. We must update our tools to suit the vehicles that are entering our workshop today. We need far more modern pieces of kit to suit the technology that is in the car of today. Long gone is the need for 7 or 8 Phillips head screwdrivers when you know the amount of torques bit drivers that are in use today.
So many mechanics of yester-year have timing lights but so few have their own scan tool. They seem to rely on the proprietor to supply these. Some of the larger shops that we have audited have had wheel balances that are old enough to vote. Surely it is time for a new piece of equipment that can more accurately balance these rims of 19 to 24 inches.
Inside this magazine there are numerous suppliers that are itching to assist you with a revamp of technology. Everywhere you turn, people are spruiking that we have a huge shortage of trained professionals. Never has it been so true but the only way we are going to get these, is to grow our own. Again, COVID-19 has possibly ended, for the time being, this wave of trained professionals from overseas. If we want a qualified mechanic, panel beater or spray painter, we need to grow our own.
It’s time to think about talking to your local high school careers adviser to plant the seed in a young person’s mind that this auto career is dynamic, ever-changing and soon to blossom with EV and Hybrid technology and of course, just over the horizon, autonomous drive. We will require a different cohort of young people whose mindsets are more aligned to computer diagnostics than the smell and feel of oil and petrol.
We need to consider who can assist our workshop over the next 10 to 15 years. It is nearly to the point that when next year’s apprentices finish their training 2026, they should forget everything that they were taught and do another apprenticeship that will end in 2030, being an apprentice of hybrid and electrification. Start the process now, don’t wait till December to try and attract an apprentice, they will all be gone.
Earlier in this piece I spoke about trading in the older style tool and buying something more modern and aligned with today’s technology, this must also happen with our own training. We can no longer hang our hat on domain experience of 30 or 40 year ago. This is all wonderful information that makes up our underpinning knowledge but we must look forward, we must engage in continuous professional development. Trade courses, seminars, information briefings and additional units of competency all add to the knowledge bank of an ever-growing motor mechanic. In the ‘70s and ‘80s it was easy to sit on your hands as very little changed, but not so today. The mechanic of today needs to be green and growing. Not red, ripe and rotten. The mechanic of today needs to know what sits on the horizon and be ready for the day that comes. Our government is doing this for us and will in fact force CDP on the automotive trade at some stage. People given professional financial advice and those in the medical profession and real estate industry all must undergo CPD to be licensed to trade. It will not be long before this happens to us. We all want the brightest and smartest apprentice, but in some shops, I see the apprentice understanding more of today’s vehicle than the proprietor. How can they possibly assist in training our apprentice if they have not kept up with their own CPD, training and understanding?