Chiefs And Indians
How many of you have had enough of trying to run a business while running around as a technician?
You may have even started out as a technician before you decided you could be in business for yourself. Ownership doesn't necessarily mean you stop being a tech. And being a technician is OK. It's important to learn all the facets of your business.
But, working more on the management end rather than the technical aspects will make your company less stressful and more successful. Here's the deal; you don't get to be the Chief until you make new Indians.
You need to create new techs to take your place or there'll be no one to manage and you'll always be stuck doing that job. So, get motivated. Begin to think about every task you do as a tech and write it all down. These notes will form the basis of what becomes the "Apprentice to Tech" in-house training program at your company.
The class outline should be based on the many different types of service calls typical to our industry. Then, find the training books, industry videos and overhead slides to use in class. Build a training center with a classroom that you can use for ongoing training of other staff. The room should have a whiteboard, television, video equipment and working systems created to simulate what your techs will find in the field. To effectively teach and learn our trade, you need to use multiple learning experiences.
The last ingredient is a motivated instructor. And you are it! Video tape each class you teach so you can watch it after class. It will be very painful at first. But, watching the video will improve your teaching skills quickly.
To get even better, get professional help. Attend a Dale Carnegie class, American Management Association class, Dan Holohan's "How to Teach Technicians (without putting them to sleep)," or the three-day seminar by Matt Smith called "Training the Trainer." You'll be a better trainer because of it.
Your company attitude will become: "Everyone is here to keep learning and improving." If you choose to work and stay at your company, this is the attitude you need to have.
Attitude, Not SkillsWith the training center completed and the training program assembled, focus on finding the right students. Change your existing newspaper ad to one that will appeal to candidates who want the opportunity to train for a career as a technician with you.
Stop looking for skills and hire the right attitude. To help identify the best candidates, use an extensive job application and detailed checklist during the interview. And while giving the tour of your training facility, ask a lot of questions to help you better understand their background and goals.
When making the final selection on whom to hire, the apprentice needs to have a clean driver's license as well as pass a drug test, a criminal background check and a physical. This should be made clear during the hiring process so there are no surprises. Take a lot of time to explain that he'll be working under your direct supervision. The work will be very hard and dirty at times, but he needs to focus on this work as part of what it takes to build his career.
Don't be afraid to hire and train more than one apprentice at a time. It takes as much work to train one as it does to train two or more. If they all work out, won't you find work for them? And by having more than one, you'll be less vulnerable when they realize that you've invested all this training in them alone. Plus, training more than one person allows the trainees to work together to help one another improve.
Provide all the training materials and food at each class. Students need to volunteer their time to attend and to do the "ride-alongs" with you or your experienced techs. To be accepted as students in the class, they should work as apprentices a minimum of six months. This period of time allows you to evaluate their ability to show up on time day after day and learn new tasks, as well as what their work ethic is.
All this is necessary because you'll be investing a lot of time away from your family and the company's money in their training. You want to make sure you're training the right people.
Everything I've mentioned I did at my company 20 years ago. Today, the classes at my company continue well after I left to pursue my new career as a trainer and consultant to the industry. I was able to sell my share of the business because of the effectiveness of the people I trained before I left.
In particular, there are four apprentices I trained all those years ago who now help run their respective departments. They're all in their late '30s to early '40s. They are now the backbone of the company because they provide all the ongoing training. They're motivated instructors because they know that to become a Chief (and to stay one), you need to keep making Indians.