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How to Implement a Successful Mentoring Program in Your Auto Body Shop

Implementing a successful mentoring program in an auto body shop requires putting the right people in place to manage the program and also finding the right candidates to mentor.

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Kyle Holt is the president of S/P2, an online safety and pollution prevention training system for the automotive, heavy-duty/diesel, welding, construction, cosmetology and culinary industries.

Photo courtesy of I-CAR

When asked about the challenges for 2018, two things rise to the top of the list for body shop owners: the lack of skilled technicians and the need for a system in place to bring on new employees and get them up to speed. In the Health & Safety column that appeared in the January 2018 issue of BodyShop Business, we talked about how a mentoring program can help with both of these challenges and how the mentoring program manager leads this initiative.

But just as shops need to put the right people in place to manage the program, they also need to find the right candidates to mentor. Some shops refer to these roles as apprentices, trainees, interns or mentees. Regardless of the term, what should shops look for when seeking new candidates to join the program?

Numerous Benefits

In a mentoring program, the mentee is assigned a mentor and works alongside that person to acquire on-the-job training and improve their skills in numerous areas. During this training, the mentee is evaluated on these skills and works toward greater proficiency through measurable goals and outcomes. As the mentee grows in the position, they’re given additional responsibilities that will expand over time.

In addition to learning the technical skills necessary to succeed in the shop environment, the mentee is also learning soft skills that they may not have learned previously but are extremely important for career growth. Some of these skills include:

  • Workplace professionalism
  • Customer service
  • Effective communication
  • Workplace organization and maintenance
  • Independent problem-solving and critical thinking
  • Time management

What Are You Looking For?

When looking for mentees, shops should focus on many of the same characteristics they look for when hiring new employees. After all, when the mentoring program concludes, hopefully they’ll join the team as a full-time employee. Qualities to look for in a mentee include:

  • Trustworthiness and honesty
  • Enthusiasm, willingness to work hard and self-motivation
  • Ability to be receptive to constructive criticism, evaluations and advice
  • Effective communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal
  • Curiosity and eagerness to learn, and willingness to ask questions
  • Mindfulness about personal hygiene and appearance
  • Flexibility and willingness to step out of their comfort zones as part of the learning process
  • Cooperative and collaborative
  • Respectful of the rights and safety of others
  • Proud of their accomplishments and desire to grow in their careers

Mentee Responsibilities

Although it’s possible that a mentee will come to your shop with some previous career experience, such as a part-time job or internship, this opportunity could be the first time this mentee has been in a professional environment. They might be a newcomer, but that doesn’t mean they have no responsibilities in the role.

The mentee is responsible for many aspects of the program and must do their part to make the relationship a successful one. For example:

Workplace safety. You do not want your mentee to start out the mentorship with an injury. As a shop owner, it’s up to you to provide the training. Make sure the mentee has completed their safety training before they enter the shop floor! However, it’s up to each mentee to protect himself – and others. The shop owner provides the personal protection equipment (PPE), but it’s the mentee’s responsibility to wear it.

Task lists. The mentor will provide the mentee with task lists to determine which skills the mentee is proficient with and which skills need more fine-tuning. The mentor can then customize the training to incorporate new skills and get the mentee serving customers sooner. The mentee will be evaluated on these task lists to see where the deficiencies are and how the mentee can move toward competency in as many tasks as possible.

Tool rules, safety and etiquette. Mentees need to have the appropriate tools to progress in their learning and complete assigned tasks. But the mentee also needs to know how to use these tools safely and respectfully. Using tools incorrectly can cause harm or injury to the mentee, but also to others in the shop. If tools are damaged, they can become unusable or dangerous. Tool safety not only includes the safe use of tools, but also the selection of the correct tools to do the job.

Communication and keeping emotions in check. Learning to communicate effectively with those you work with is key to successful workplace relationships, and mentees can learn this on their very first assignment. Communication can make or break a mentee’s success in the program — and on the job. This includes communication while in the mentoring program, and when it’s time to evaluate the partnership.

A Good Motivator

Mentoring programs are a proven approach to recruit, train and retain employees. According to Millennium Group International, a management consulting firm that helps organizations become more effective and efficient, 95 percent of mentees say that participating in a mentoring program motivates them to “up their game” and do their best. Isn’t that the type of employee you want in your shop?

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