The exchange of knowledge amongst technicians is a contentious commodity. We find out what support is on offer for technicians and workshop owners
Many repairers shy away from sharing their knowledge with others, preferring to hold on tightly to the tried and tested techniques honed through many years of experience. The skills were hard-earned and why should they share with potential competitors and people who can’t be bothered to put the work in and discover the answers for themselves? On the flipside, many are too afraid to ask more knowledgeable techs questions, and even attend training in some cases, for fear of embarrassing themselves.
But for many people, sharing knowledge with piers has been a natural and highly beneficial exchange that has taken place for years, often developing from chance meetings at training courses or exhibitions, and these connections are also being made online, via closed Facebook groups and more traditionally, online forums.
As in any area of life, no matter how accomplished we may, or may not, be in our area of specialism, we all continue to learn, every single day. It is impossible to know it all and in the fast-paced world of automotive repair, the goal posts move at a dizzying pace. Having a network of contacts and access to information, technical resources and wider business support is just as vital perhaps as the tools needed to fix modern vehicles and the knowledge to use them to their full potential.
In recent years, parts suppliers have reacted to this demand for technical information and installation support, creating networks and online resources, such as Schaeffler’s Repxpert. Others are actively fighting restrictive practices, including the IAAF through its work with FIGIEFA, to ensure the independent aftermarket is able to perform on a level playing field, despite the systems and data networks vehicle manufacturers introduce to the latest vehicles.
Trade associations have continued to fight our industry’s corner and improve its public perception, with the IAAF’s ongoing Your Car – Your Choice campaign (promoting the right to use any repair workshop for non warranty work during the warranty period) and the Independent Garage Association showcasing exemplary independent workshops with its BIG Awards. Trade bodies also play a vital role in providing accreditation, business support and implementing professional standards, such as the IMI spearheading the new EV TechSafeTM Standards, to give technicians an easy way to certify their EV competence, see news page 4.
Technicians have also formed strong communities that converse online and upskill together in the real world. What they all have in common is a mission to upskill and raise the trade’s profile so that invested technicians can get a decent return for their expertise and ultimately, it is finally received by the masses as a worthy career for switched on youngsters to aspire to and enjoy. Autotechnician aims to gather many of these technicians, as well as those who feel ‘out of the loop,’ at the Big Weekend training event 10-11 July at Chatham Dockyard, see page 8 for details of the first speakers to be announced.
We speak with a few of these groups to learn of the various benefits of being part of a network…
Partnering with suppliers who design, and manufacture OE systems, can provide valuable technical expertise when it comes to diagnosing and repairing modern vehicles and all provide varying levels of installation support and training. Here, we detail the resources available from ZF [pro]Tech – a technical training and information garage concept from ZF Aftermarket.
This provides workshops with a direct link to technical expertise via personal contact, technical training sessions and through its online portal, which provides practical guidance on parts and systems under its brands – ZF, LEMFÖRDER, SACHS and TRW and OEM service campaign information across all systems, not just ZF.
There are two levels of membership – ZF [pro]Tech start and plus – offering varying degrees of support and technical information via an online portal and telephone helpline. ZF [pro]Tech start is available for a one-off, affordable fee and the more in-depth plus is subscription-based. A comprehensive programme of training courses is available.
Q: What is the thinking behind the concept?
The tier one supplier says the ZF [pro] Tech concept was born of a genuine desire to support the independent aftermarket in an age of advancing and changing mobility and decided long ago that this initiative would be about people, not profit. It wants to ensure independent workshops have the same opportunities as the main dealers and ZF [pro]Tech was conceived as a way to furnish the independent with the tools, technical knowledge and information to achieve this.
Q: How does ZF [pro]Tech work?
There are three interlinking elements to it:
1. Training courses:
A comprehensive programme of IMI-accredited training courses, providing a mixture of hands on, web- based and classroom learning. Intended help workshops cope with the new technologies as well as deal with the vehicles of today – they cover all ZF parts, systems and technologies as well as high voltage training necessary for working with electric vehicles. They vary in length from one-day courses to intensive training over several days. Courses are run at its accredited training centres across the UK and are open to all, however, members of ZF [pro]Tech start and plus, get a discounted rate. All offer an industry recognized (IMI) qualification www.aftermarket.zf.com/uk/protech.
2. ZF [pro]Tech start
For a one-off affordable fee, members of ZF [pro]Tech start can access personalised support via an online portal and telephone helpline. Membership includes: Access to ZF’s technical knowledge, discounted training courses and free access to OEM service campaign information across all systems, not just ZF. Members receive regular update bulletins and membership is available via distributors as a product, or direct from ZF.
3. ZF [pro]Tech plus
Workshops must meet certain business criteria regarding size and scope of business to be eligible for ZF [pro]Tech plus. Members pay a monthly subscription and are allocated a bespoke business account manager available for hands- on, marketing and brand support – becoming part of the official ZF IAM partner network. As well as access to the same technical information as start members, they receive three days free training per year, a larger discount on any additional training courses booked and other workshop benefits.
Matt Shakespeare, UK Technical sales manager, ZF Aftermarket explains: “As chassis and driveline experts, we take our position as a leader extremely seriously. With ZF [pro]Tech, we connect the UK garages to our industry-leading specialists and give them a direct link into ZF’s technical world. With the benefit of our knowledge and experience, we allow them to futureproof their businesses by providing them with the skills and proficiencies required to service and repair the vehicles of today and tomorrow.”
ONLINE SUPPORT FROM PEERS
There are many Facebook groups that have become a valuable tool in the diagnostics armoury, enabling technicians to share knowledge and access help quickly. The original support networks were online forums and UK AutoTalk, UKAT, is one of the early adopters, setting up in 2001, and it is still going strong. Founder, Peter Warman, shares his views on why this format of knowledge sharing still works and updates AT readers on new resources:
“UK AutoTalk has been running since September 2001 and steadily grew to over 3,000 members but in recent years, membership has declined due to Facebook Groups. We still have a loyal following, as many older techs don’t want to use social media and they like to chat with other techs they have known and trusted for many years. Many are also selling up and retiring, so losing a few more there.
“We do have to charge a minimum subscription to join, to cover the cost of the 12 forums, keep them free of adverts, and store our Archive – which has 19 years of posts. The archive of older posts is probably used the most.
“I did think about turning UKAT into a Facebook Group a few years back, but there are so many now, literally tens of thousands out there. Trying to manage and monitor the posts would have been a full-time job.
“Information is still King though and the UKAT Workshop Data has really taken off [a subscription-based technical data resource, powered by Haynes Pro]. We have recently added Technical Bulletins, Known Fixes/Common Problems and Invoicing at the request of many users. We have also just added a Dynamic Vehicle Health Check that can be passed onto customers to help generate additional income, which I am sure many garages are missing out on. Garages should recoup the cost of UKAT Workshop Data in a few months with the extra work.”
Existing members of the UKAT Forums can get a £30 discount on the subscription price of UKAT Workshop data and a free trial can be accessed by clicking the side banner on www.autotechnician.co.uk.
One technician who has used social media to promote discussions surrounding training and repairs via YouTube and Facebook, is Steve Scott. The mobile diagnostic specialist started filming his repairs two years ago to provide tips to fellow repairers, and to show the general public the complexities of fixing modern cars to help improve public perception of the trade. A Facebook group was created to enable public discussions and a closed, subscription-based network ensued, to enable professionals to learn together in a private space. The bespoke, Simply Diag Network portal will soon be available at www.simplydiag.co.uk, providing ‘a trade- only and positive space’ outside of social media.
Steve provides a technical helpline, bespoke on-site training, and ‘ride along’ training for those who want to improve their fault-finding skills by taking on real jobs alongside him.
WORK PROVIDERS – PROCEED WITH CAUTION
The number of third parties connecting potential jobs received online from motorists with workshops has grown significantly, and while they could be helpful for garages who are located out of town or who are just starting up, reliance on these work providers could diminish a garage’s identity and keep you busy with unprofitable work. The IGA has expressed its concerns with this growing trend and produced a Garage Work Provider Report, giving an overview of 17 organisations, along with user feedback, booking terms and much more. You can download the report at www.autotechnician.co.uk/workprovider.
Frank Harvey, IGA Head of Member Services, told AT: “One of the major strengths of independent garages is their ability to provide a far more personal experience for the customer, building a relationship that often spans several generations of customers. However, we understand that many independent garages choose to use the services of online garage work provision companies to bring in additional custom. These third-party disruptors have a significant detrimental impact on the sector by placing themselves between the customer and the garage, ‘skimming’ a fee from either the garage, the customer or both, with the potential to damage the brand identity of the garage.
“The IGA firmly believes independent garage businesses should continue to engage directly with customers and promote their own brand and image, however we are fully aware that many consumers choose to use work providers. Garages may find they can generate additional income from these websites, but they should check all costs, contracts and terms very carefully before signing up with any potential work provider. A primary consideration should be whether the customer pays the garage directly or payment is made via the work provider, along with the credit rating of any organisation to whom a garage may be extending payment terms. Finally, ensure any work carried out will remain profitable.”
HOLISTIC BUSINESS SUPPORT
We look at the services provided by the Independent Garage Association, IGA, which has been supporting independent workshops for over 100 years.
The IGA provides technical and business support to independent workshops and its members helpline is the first point of contact if advice is required on any automotive related issue, from legal advice, help with Digital Service Records to HR problems. Business support and commercial services provided by the IGA include: HR & Legal, private healthcare packages, a service that reduces cost and saves time managing overheads such as rates and utility bills, card processing, and branded workwear.
When technical help is needed, the RMI Technical Helpline can support you through problem repairs, helping with undocumented fault codes and guiding users through wiring diagrams. For more information call the Independent Garage Association helpline on 0845 305 4230 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. See page 59 for a technical Q&A with Senior advisor Harry Lewis. When practical training is needed, the RMI Academy of Automotive Skills has training facilities located in Warwickshire, Runcorn and Winchester, offering MOT Tester and Center Management training, F Gas as well as Hybrid/EV and diagnostics training.
The trade association has an established consumer code scheme ‘Trust My Garage’, exclusively for independent garages and included with IGA membership, subject to passing a CTSI audit. This has been promoted to motorists in national TV advertising campaigns as a badge of quality. Garages are listed on its website, along with genuine feedback ratings, to attract potential customers. Signage, marketing packs and social media promotions are available to members who are part of the scheme.
The trade body will be hosting the British Independent Garage of the Year Awards for the first time in June, recognising some of the best workshops in the UK. You can find out more, and enter your garage, at www.independentgarageassociation.co.uk.
We will be visiting and talking to workshops throughout the year to hear about the benefits of trade body membership, being part of a franchise or a garage network and those who have signed up to a work provision company. If you’d like Autotechnician to share your story with readers, please get in touch with Editor Nicola St Clair, by emailing Nicola@autotechnician.co.uk.
HEADING OVERSEAS FOR TRAINING AND NETWORKING EVENTS
There are many groups, YouTubers and individuals who have gathered repairers together to benefit from wider experience, with an increasing number of trainers and technicians heading overseas to compare notes. Last year, Ryan Colley of Elite Automotive Diagnostics arranged for technical expert Brandon Steckler to fly in from the States to talk about the subject of pressure pulse analysis at Technical Topics HQ. See page 15 in our September issue at www.autotechnician.co.uk/magazine.
In October, Edward Grigg of Swanley Garage Services was part of a group of technicians, including Simply Diag’s Steve Scott and DPF Doctor’s Darren Darling, who went to Philadelphia to attend the Super Saturday training event. This brought together some of America’s most respected trainers and automotive YouTubers, including Paul Danner, AKA, Scanner Danner.
During the trip, Edward spoke to several workshop owners to compare notes. “We spoke about the daily struggles we encounter – customers being unwilling to pay for diagnostics, the lack of skilled diagnostic technicians available for employment… It just goes to show, that wherever you are in the world, the struggles are the same,” Edward tells us.
One training session that stood out for him was Jorge Menchu’s wiring diagram class, where he was given a workbook and a set of highlighter pens to colour in the different sections. “The first week I was back from the States I was able to put Jorge’s techniques into practice. Colouring the wiring diagram and tracing it back, I was able to pin-point a peculiar fault, saving me valuable time. Jorge has since contacted me and said how we (the British) brought so much to the training event and what a great time it is to be in the industry.”
There are many free resources available from suppliers to support repairs, from installation apps and guides, online databases detailing common failures and fixes, to marketing materials to help promote your expertise to customers. Ensure you are getting the most from your supplier by clicking on that link or scanning in the QR code. There is a wealth of information out there!
It is also worth considering a subscription to access in-depth technical support and training. There is no doubt that attitude is everything – those who attend training, meet up with fellow repairers, or discuss repair scenarios online, feel more connected and supported in their efforts in being the best they can be. They are more likely to see results now and be better prepared for the changes that lie ahead.