5 Tips and Strategies for an Effective Service Department Mentoring Program


Apprenticeship is a concept as old as time. It used to be that the ONLY way to learn a trade was to serve an apprenticeship to a master of the chosen craft. Now, with technical schools and refined training programs, the apprenticeship is no longer a necessity, but there is still a lot of value in the mentor/apprentice relationship.

Automotive News recently ran an article about dealerships that run effective mentoring programs for service technicians. The programs that are most successful seem to have 5 things in common. Here they are:

Vet Prospective Mentors Carefully

The face and personality of your dealership is made up of the individuals that work there. Each employee has the ability to affect the dealership by their interactions with employees around them as well as customers who visit.

Mentors have a particularly powerful ability to affect the personality of your dealership. By definition, a mentor is training the next generation. With that in mind, you need to choose mentors very carefully. They will be passing their attitudes, work ethic, and skill set on to younger technicians.

Lee Harkins, CEO of M5 Management Services Inc., suggested that with mentors, “you need to make sure you want four or five people just like him.”

Provide a Detailed Job Description for the Mentor

Many service technicians would probably consider themselves lone wolfs. They like to take care of business in their own way, and in their own time. This can make it difficult for a service technician to become a mentor without setting clear guidelines.

Harkins says that one key to success is to prepare a detailed job description that spells out the responsibilities of the mentors and how they will be paid. In that way, he says, mentor applicants know what they’re getting into and there won’t be surprises down the road.

Test the Waters with Each Apprenticeservice

When assigning an apprentice to a mentor, it is important to approach this new relationship tentatively. It is not realistic to expect that every apprentice will blossom into a productive master tech, even with the help of an effective mentor.

“We have to kiss a bunch of frogs with these guys, because they either don’t have the ability, the knowledge or the desire,” Harkins says. “If they don’t, you need to cut the line pretty quickly.”

A great way to start a mentor/apprentice relationship is on a trial basis. If the apprentice passes the initial stage, they can assume a full apprenticeship.

Ensure a Good Mentor/Apprentice Fit

It should go without saying, but mentors and apprentices will be working very closely together. It is important to ensure a good personality match and compatible working styles.

One way to promote a good match is to involve the mentor in the apprentice selection process. If the mentor is invested in choosing an apprentice, it will result in a better arrangement for both parties, as well as the department.

Pay Mentors on Apprentice Production

When mentors are paid based on the production of their apprentices, they are more likely to devote the time and attention to the apprentice’s success.

Dave Wright, fixed operations director at Shaheen Chevrolet in Lansing, Mich., recently launched a mentoring program at his dealership, and had this to say: “We put some guarantees in place so they wouldn’t get hurt financially and not have to worry about making their paycheck,”

Mentoring an apprentice is hard work, but the value of a successful mentor/apprentice relationship can pay big dividends for all parties involved.