Field of tomorrow’s talent requires constant nurturing
Raleigh, N.C.—Advance Auto Parts is pedaling its foot on the gas to drive industry concerns, such as technician training and workforce issues, to the forefront and keeping them in its headlights. Al Wheeler, senior vice president, Commercial Business, says building and maintaining a foundation that fosters their customers’ — and industry’s — growth is imperative.
“We’re sticking to our mission of creating a great environment for our customers, both transactionally and through solutions,” he said. “We’re focused on improving and developing those areas. It’s a transactional business and we’re judged on that every day. Once that trust is earned, we differentiate ourselves through meaningful solutions that meet shops’ needs. It’s an ever-evolving challenge in view of changing vehicle technology and training technicians to increase their critical thinking skills.”
Advance Professional and Advance Auto Parts continues to develop CARQUEST Technical Institute (CTI) under Senior Director Chris Chesney’s leadership at its 9,000-square-foot research center in Raleigh, N.C. “There’s always been a strong effort to listen to our customers at every level,” Wheeler said, citing its recent TECHNET National Advisory Council meeting to better understand their needs, and its fall Executive Council meeting, where Advance met with many of the principles of major service providers to discuss trends, such as generational change from customer and workforce management standpoints.
“We want to know Millennials and what they value, because we have an impending storm on the horizon with technicians [regarding the workforce],” he said, adding that it’s estimated half of today’s technicians will be at retirement age in the next five to 10 years.
The industry, Wheeler said, has come to the realization there isn’t a large enough population of technicians to cycle into the aftermarket. “We have to grow our own. One of the challenges entry-level technicians experience coming out of vo-tech school is they are often placed in an environment that’s unchallenging with menial tasks. They become disenchanted.”
One of the research center’s goals is to resolve those issues by offering a weeklong onboarding. “We can bring in technicians from vo-tech schools and provide them further education that extends beyond the classroom, such as practical application skills within a shop and creating a mentor program. If a shop doesn’t have a nurturing environment, they’ll lose them to somebody who does. We operate in a fundamentally simple business, but it’s not easy to execute those fundamentals consistently.”
It will only get more complicated down the road as consumers’ needs change, investment in equipment increases and technician knowledge requirements escalate, he said. “How do we, as an industry, do things differently? How do we embrace change? We have to ask those questions. We have to define a road map on what we’re going to do and address them within the shop, large or small. I have new and continued respect for the challenges shop owners, service consultants and technicians face every day for keeping vehicles safely on the road and meeting the increasing expectations of consumers.”
Advance is a member of the TechForce Foundation, which encourages and supports students to enter the industry through technical education, scholarships, grants and career development programs. “Students, primarily at the middle school and high school levels, need to know that the aftermarket isn’t just turning wrenches anymore, but diagnosing complicated technology with high-tech equipment with critical-thinking skills. They should know it’s a robust career path, not only from a technician standpoint, but through the entire industry.”
Advance continues to seek opportunities to be part of the solution, most notably with its recent TECHNET Service Sales Academy. Millennials, as consumers, are environmentally conscience and are more educated, gathering much of their information through online resources, Wheeler said. “They’ll trust you, but with verification, so we need to ask how we’re going to prepare service consultants to meet a more educated customer who could potentially push back, not accepting what is wrong with their vehicle.”
The Service Sales Academy is designed to assist in meeting those needs and more, through an online virtual training room where twice-monthly Webinars are conducted. Expansion of the program is under consideration. “We’re approaching shop needs holistically. Advance wants to partner along side with what they need to succeed,” Wheeler said.
“In our society, we place doctors on this high level as professionals, but they only have to work on two models, male and female,” Wheeler joked, “though a technician has to be familiar with various vehicle makes and models that change every year. There are systems in place for doctors, lawyers and CPAs to obtain continuous education to maintain certification, but what are we doing to keep technicians trained?
“As consumers, we think nothing of calling someone if our home’s air conditioning fails and they charge $100 just to look at it — which the consumer immediately accepts as a cost — then charges their time on the job and list price for a small replacement part,” Wheeler said. “But, yet, when a shop charges for diagnostic time it’s not unusual to experience consumer push back. It’s something that needs to be addressed and we’re certainly trying to address it at Advance.”