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What’s the key to a happy, functional shop? A good team with high morale, of course.

We’ve talked about how to hire the right folks. But what are you supposed to do with them once they’re actually in your shop?

You could just throw them into their work and hope for the best. We’re pretty sure some shops do that anyway. Heck, elements of figuring things out for yourself occur in every job you’ll find. But after talking with clients and observing our own processes, we’ve learned that a solid onboarding process lets a newly hired tech – especially an apprentice without a ton of experience – learn the ins and outs of the shop with a helping hand.

Honestly, this is especially important for an apprentice. Even if they graduated from the top of their class, they’re jumping into a world full of extremely heavy, powerful machinery. The more guidance you can provide, the better off everyone will be.

Obviously there isn’t a one-size-fits-all onboarding process. We’ve gathered some components that we think all good onboarding involves. Read on, see what works for you, and happy onboarding!

BEFORE THEY START

Sure, you can start your onboarding on Day 1. That’s often how it goes. And yes, the meat of what they learn will come from hands-on experience, especially if you’re dealing with apprentices.

But if your tech has some time between their hiring date and start date, you can start onboarding them even if they haven’t set foot in the shop. Magical, we know. Here are some things they can get out of the way:

  • Paperwork. The first day of any job usually gets bogged down by all the writing an employee needs to do. Some stuff may have to wait until they’re physically in the shop, but see what kind of documentation you can send over ahead of time. We’re talking about health insurance paperwork, 401ks, and the like.
  • Software onboarding. If you have some kind of software that’s available off-site, set your new tech up with an account and let them do a little bit of exploring. Accomplishing this will depend on what software you use and what kind of learning documentation they have. We’ll toot our own horn here and let you know that you can get your greenhorns started with Fullbay Learn as soon as you make accounts for them.
  • Shop documentation. Yes, your tech will get to know the place as they go. But if you have simple diagrams of shop layout, where equipment is located, or a list of ground rules, or even your shop’s core values, you can send all of these to the newbie so they can give them a look. Even if it’s just a cursory glance, they’ll still be arriving on their first day with some foreknowledge of what’s going on and what goes where.

THE FIRST DAYS

Your new tech will only have one first day, but any good onboarding process spans at least the first couple weeks of employment. Here are some of the steps to track as you bring your newbie aboard:

  • Make introductions. Your shop staff will be working closely together for the next few days, weeks, months, and hopefully years. Rather than letting your tech bump into random people, gather everyone together early on the first day and make introductions. Want to do something nice for your greenhorn and your regular staff? Bring in coffee and donuts and schedule 15 minutes or so for everyone to get to know each other. It’ll be a sweet welcome for your new tech, and a nice way to kick off the day for your regulars.
  • Safety equipment. Once your newbie has eaten and is frantically trying to remember everyone’s names, take them around to the safety equipment. This is the single most important thing you can do on the first day (maybe even more important than showing them where the coffee is). Where are your eye and face protectors, your gloves, your fire extinguishers? In the post-COVID world, you’ll also want to point out hand sanitizers, masks, and possibly even painted spaces on the floor indicating how much space you need to give an occupied area.
  • Shop tour. Assign your newbie to an experienced tech for a proper tour of the shop. They should see everything: the service desk, the parts room, the lifts, the tools, and so on. This is a good time to go over shop protocols, too – how you handle part cores, how to properly clean up after a job, and so on. This is often a multi-day process, especially for apprentices, so don’t try to cram it all into one morning.
  • Equipment lessons. Make sure all of your newbies, no matter what skill set they’re equipped with, learn how to use your machinery appropriately. Experienced techs might roll their eyes a bit at this, but bear in mind even similar equipment can have variations in how it operates, especially if you’re using a newer or older model than the tech is used to. Worst comes to worst, it’s a refresher.

OLD HANDS

After a couple weeks, your new tech is likely falling into their own rhythm. They’ve figured out your software and are using it correctly; they’re handling the jobs tossed their way efficiently; and they’re establishing their place in your shop’s culture.

But your onboarding isn’t over. There are still things you need to do to make sure they’re benefiting from onboarding, and what you can do to improve the process going forward.

  • Administrative stuff. Yeah, yeah, more paperwork. Your tech will probably have to spend at least some of their time on the phone. They’ll also deal with customers face to face at times. Walk through your customer service expectations and make sure they’re equipped to manage the tough interactions as well as the easy ones. Get them up to scratch on handling service orders and invoicing, if necessary – all those not-so-exciting but critical parts of the job.
  • Get feedback. Ask your senior techs how the newbie is doing. Talk to everyone who comes into contact with the new tech – you want a complete picture of how they’re acclimating to the shop. This isn’t just to figure out potential weaknesses; you’re also finding out where their strengths rest and where you can possibly make improvements to your own processes.
  • Meet with their boss. Who does your new tech work under? Schedule regular meetings with this person to get a full idea of how the greenhorn is doing. These can be weekly at first, then dropped to monthly.
  • Meet with the person. Of course we’re not going to suggest you get feedback from everyone but your newb! Even if they jump into the workflow without hesitation, odds are they’re still gonna feel like “that new kid” for a while (or at least until you hire the next one). Consider meeting with the newbie a few times. A coffee run works, or even lunch if you’re feeling fancy. How are they feeling about everything? Are there areas where they want to improve? Do they see patches where you can further improve your onboarding? Listen to what they have to say. A good boss who pays attention to their employees’ concerns goes a long way in building a culture that techs will want to stay in.

SUMMING UP

The first few days at a shop are an exciting time for the new tech, and a solid onboarding process will make their transition from bright-eyed noob to seasoned tech an easy one. The sooner they’re ramped up, the more productive your shop will be – and the more profits you’ll see!

Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.