Create an apprentice program

If the last 2,000 years of human existence are any indication, apprenticeship seems to be a fairly tried and true method of work-force training.

Donald Trump certainly believes in it.

So does MarineMax (Ranked 1 in 2005 and 2006).

But where Trump’s television program is a shameless publicity grab, the recreational boating retailer, which recently opened its 71st store, takes its apprenticeship program seriously. MarineMax is in the early stages of implementing the instructor/apprentice model as a means to train service technicians throughout the company.

Brett McGill, vice president of information technology service and parts at MarineMax, Inc., says the company has 10 to 15 stores experimenting with service apprenticeship. Of those, McGill says there are about five that have set-up programs that will be able to serve as models for MarineMax to use as it expands the program company-wide.

And that’s what MarineMax intends to do. McGill says that although the company has been experimenting with apprenticeship, MarineMax is fine-tuning a few things before a more concrete framework is created.

In those stores where the program is already underway, the system operates in its standard fashion, pairing the inexperienced employee with a seasoned technician. The veteran offers guidance and education in return for the increased productivity an assistant can provide.

That productivity can take many forms. Having extra help on hand allows certified techs to focus on the areas where they can be most valuable. When a boat needs to be moved or a part looked up and ordered, the apprentice is given those tasks, while the technicians continue to make repairs.

As the apprentices gain knowledge, they learn to perform many of the simple, time-consuming fixes, or basic maintenance duties that keep more experienced techs from working on the complicated repairs.

“The service technician is one of the most profitable positions in the dealership,” McGill says. “When somebody brings a boat in for its 100-hours service, it’s awfully costly to bill that out to your best technician.”

MarineMax tracks the productivity of all of its service technicians, and has seen productivity jump, in some cases by up to 50 percent, in those technicians that have apprentices. So the company knows the system works.

And as alarms warning of technician shortages continue to ring around the country, McGill believes apprentices may be the answer.

Helping certified technicians spend more time turning wrenches while helping another generation take its first steps toward certified status may not solve the problem, but it’s a good start.

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