How dealerships can maximize training dollars

how dealerships can maximize training dollars

DENVER — Assurant trainer Ritch Wheeler last month offered retailers and other companies ways to improve how they develop staff to ensure that training budgets are not wasted.

Companies should hire people willing to learn, develop a training structure, create a culture that supports education and then offer both incentives and accountability for learning, Wheeler told the Ethical F&I Managers Conference here on April 21.

Hiring smarter might help dealerships realize more value from training their employees, said Wheeler, vice president of training at Assurant’s Automotive Training Academy.

The trick is to get someone coachable, he said, whether or not they have experience.

“You need to hire somebody that’s willing to continue to grow and learn,” Wheeler said, suggesting employers keep an eye out for this during an interview.

Job postings should inform candidates how employers will provide them with a way to succeed rather than emphasize a demand for experience, according to Wheeler.

It’s also a mistake to declare that no experience is necessary, for inexperienced candidates will conclude that they’ll lose the job to someone more seasoned, he said.

Dealerships that find a good candidate to hire should make sure the employee has a good introduction to the store.

According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, dealership sales personnel have a 90 percent attrition rate. “That’s awful,” he said.

But 70 percent of employees who have a good onboarding experience can be found at the same company three years later, Wheeler said.

Give new hires a good first day, Wheeler said. He advised assigning a host to show the newcomer around a dealership and holding some kind of training the first day to demonstrate a culture of education.

Wheeler also said dealerships can foster a culture of education with a course catalog, such as what a college would offer, and letting staff pick classes. He described a system that he and others had established at a dealership.

All the managers were tasked with developing a course and offering it at least twice a month. For their part, employees would need to attend four classes of their choice each month. Certain days would have two different classes available — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — to accommodate split shifts. It worked well and fostered the desired culture.

This was a better system than ordering everyone to be in the conference room for a 2 p.m. class or be fined $25, Wheeler said.

“Is that a fun event?” he asked.

You could pay training companies such as Wheeler’s to handle all your education, he said. But he pointed to the Malcolm Gladwell book Outliers, which proposed that one needs 10,000 hours in a discipline to become an expert. Hiring a company to train staff would take eight hours every day for five years and cost $3 million, he said.

“Anybody got a dealer who can sign off on that? I got a card if you do, by the way,” Wheeler joked.

A culture of continuing education is a better way to go, he said.

But accountability is still necessary, Wheeler said. Employees can both be held accountable and rewarded for dedication to training through a carrot-and-stick system, he said.

Wheeler said it was simple for his dealership: Employees who didn’t take the required four classes weren’t eligible for spiffs or bonuses the following month.

He said other accountability reward propositions could leverage time off or the opportunity for career development. (Those who aspired to promotions to roles such as floor or finance managers had to attend and do well in the training offered.)

Gamification also works, particularly for younger workers, Wheeler said, and can be simple and inexpensive. He said his dealership used to test on the different classes monthly and the highest scorer got to sign a baseball bat and keep it in their office.

“It’s stupid, but to a bunch of dumb car guys, if I get to have a bat in my office … that shows that I won that month,” he joked. “That’s a big deal, right?”


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