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Managing the risk of hiring entry-level technicians

Hiring an entry-level technician, technician helper or apprentice can be a risky proposition, especially if the individual has few or no credentials that enable you to make a judgment about his or her technical knowledge or interest and ability to learn.

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Hiring an entry-level technician, technician helper or apprentice can be a risky proposition, especially if the individual has few or no credentials that enable you to make a judgment about his or her technical knowledge or interest and ability to learn.

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Making such a hire is an investment. And, as with any other investment, there exists both elements of risk and reward. The challenge is to manage the risk to improve your return on training and development. Where is the appropriate starting point?

It’s fairly obvious that one of the better approaches is to develop a method to identify candidates who have some basic credentials – a diploma from a secondary automotive or diesel technology career education program or an associate degree from a post-secondary program, for example. That diploma or degree provides some assurance that the candidate has been exposed to component removal and replacement and the use of tools and equipment and has fundamental systems knowledge.

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Better yet, if the school is certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, you can be assured that the program has been evaluated against industry-developed standards, including instructional standards. There are more than 2,100 automotive, medium- and heavy-duty truck and collision repair/refinish programs throughout the U.S.

Developing a relationship with an automotive or truck technology program, through participation on an advisory board or as a sponsor, can place you in a better position to identify, with the help of the local instructor, talented candidates who can fill entry-level positions with a little more assurance that your investment in training and development will produce the technician you desire.

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But, what about the job you need to fill today? Absent any credentials, what are some of the methods you can use to assess entry-level candidates?

At least one fleet manager I know takes the entry-level candidate on a tour of the parts department. During this tour, they make various stops where the applicant is presented with a part and asked to identify it. From this point, the “interview” can explore topics such as the part’s function, location, maintenance, etc., and provide some facts that can help evaluate the applicant’s level of knowledge.

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A test of technical knowledge is another valuable tool, and there are a number of resources available to enable you to develop your own. ASE has just introduced four new online self-assessment quizzes (light vehicles only at this writing) designed to measure fundamental maintenance, diagnosis and repair knowledge. Because the quizzes are administered online, the results are reliable only to the extent that they are properly used. In other words, they won’t tell you much if used as an “open book” test, for example. But, with this caveat, they may be able to provide some measure of the candidate’s level of knowledge. Visit the ASE Campus section of the ASE Web site for more information.

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A variety of ASE test preparation guides are also available that can be a resource for developing this type of knowledge assessment. Some publishers of these guides have assessment products available for purchase. Some guides can be customized for your situation.

Above all, however, it is important to be realistic about the type and level of knowledge you expect of a candidate for an entry-level technician opening, so be careful not to set unreasonable screening criteria. Someone with the knowledge to be productive at the outset will likely not find satisfaction in the work. You should be looking for development potential, but be prepared to invest in training.

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Chuck Roberts is ASE’s executive director of industry relations.

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