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Hire Students in Co-op, Intern, and Apprentice Programs

Here are important issues to consider when hiring students for work-based learning positions:

Legal and insurance requirements – Some employers automatically assume that all employees must be 18 to work in a repair shop, but that is not the case. Federal regulations allow students who are 16 and older to work in automotive service. The most common restriction is that workers under 18 may not drive a car on public streets, but the best practice is to not allow students under 18 to drive customer’s cars or company vehicles at all. Otherwise, there are a few restrictions that vary from state to state. It is best to check with your state department of labor for the details, although students involved in work-study programs are often exempted from any restrictions.

Likewise, you and your agent should not assume that your insurance coverages preclude you from hiring students under 18. Check with the national office; it often turns out that these are outdated assumptions. In some states, schools provide workers compensation or other insurance for working students.

In most cases, the “under 18” challenge can be overcome if people put their mind to it. The alternative is watching talented students go to work in other industries that have a more progressive understanding of workplace limitations, and those students may never return to automotive service after turning 18. It is critical that we employer students as early in their careers as possible.

Managing expectations – As a member of the advisory committee you and others in your company have a solid understanding of the students’ potential skills and knowledge. This is very important in determining who and how you integrate the student in your shop environment and provide a pathway to develop those entry-level skills.

Considering your shop culture – At times this is a very difficult part of taking on a student or any entry-level individual into your organization. An internal review (i.e., look in the mirror) of your shop management and current employees and current turnover rate can provide a potential foundation of how successful you may be in growing your entry-level employees.

Your business may be the student’s first exposure to the automotive service industry. Are new employees treated with respect by veterans? Are they assigned the most menial tasks only, like shop clean-up and quick-service operations? Everyone needs to “learn the ropes” but if students do not feel welcomed or see opportunities to advance, they may quickly sour on our industry and choose a different career path. Having a plan in place prior to the student coming to work will ensure greater success in managing and measuring the students transition into your company.

Interviewing – If the student participated in a job shadowing experience at your business, you may not need to conduct a formal hiring interview, but you will want to spend enough time with each student to decide if they demonstrate the attributes you value and would fit in well with other employees in your department. It’s a good idea to keep student interviews on a casual basis, but some of the rules for conducting hiring interviews still apply. You’ll want to apply the following guidelines when discussing opportunities.

1. Make sure that a private room (or another neutral area) is available for the interview. Ask a service employee who understands and supports the local school to be available to meet the student and talk about the working environment in your service area.
2. Welcome the student and start the interview.
3. Ask the student about his or her commitment to work-based learning and not just a part-time job.
4. Present a realistic idea about what it would be like to work in your department as an intern or apprentice.
5. Ask open-ended questions that will give you an idea of the student’s values and personal characteristics but remember to avoid the unsuitable questions. Here are some examples of good open-ended questions:

• What are your strongest characteristics?
• Why are you interested in an automotive career?
• What are your goals and ambitions after you graduate?
• Which of your personal interests would encourage us to sponsor you?
• If you are selected, what will you expect of our company?

6. Describe the company’s employment expectations and conditions. Be sure to mention:
• Attendance and being at work on time
• Accepting direction and guidance
• Agreeing to the mentoring process
• Adherence to safety procedures
• Company policies
• Compensation

7. Talk to the student about the companies’ history, customer service focus, and business philosophy.
8. Give the student a chance to ask questions and respond with accurate information.

Considering diversity in the selection process - The face of the American workforce is changing. Almost half of all workers are women and there is greater ethnic diversity. The demographics suggest that these changes will continue to change as we move further into the twenty-first century. You will notice this trend as you recruit applicants for all positions in the company, including your student interns. Many companies have recognized this shift and are actively encouraging diversity in their workplace through their recruitment efforts. They realize that a diverse workforce provides them with a broad base of viewpoints, backgrounds, and perspectives, and may enable them to relate better to their customers with their unique traits and characteristics.

Making the choice - You’re in a good position to help select the right students you want to sponsor in your company. But it’s a good idea to ask employees who meet with the students for an opinion, too. Consider recommendations from instructors and counselors. Then, it’s just a matter of deciding which students demonstrate the qualities you want and seem likely to fit in with your technicians and other employees. Let the school know as soon as you make your decision, and an instructor or school administrator will help with the remaining details of bringing students on board.

It’s always important to let applicants for any position know when you’ve made a decision not to hire them. If you interview a student that you decide not to sponsor, send the student a brief letter explaining your decision. This may seem unnecessary, but a properly worded letter softens the rejection. That’s especially important for a young person who may have more self-esteem at risk than a mature job applicant.

Compensating the student - Pay these students a competitive wage. They are potentially your future work force, and this is an investment and not an expense. Understanding the compensation of other businesses in your community will provide guidance in a starting wage. If the position is expected to last several months or longer, milestones and incentives should be established which result in a pay increase. Include a formal review process for the student that will allow all parties involved (the instructor and your manager) to assess the student’s progress

On-boarding – What will it take to turn a promising student intern into a desirable, committed employee? To ensure the achievement of this objective, you’ll not only need to help your student develop solid technical skills, but you’ll also need to make the student feel welcomed as a part of a well-organized team that’s dedicated to customer satisfaction. This is why it’s so important to inform all company employees of the purpose and structure of the work-based learning, and to enlist their assistance in welcoming and guiding your student employee.

Create a pathway – In a recent survey of high school automotive students, the #1 reason for not taking the next automotive course was that students did not see a career pathway for themselves in automotive service. This pathway should include short-term goals and objectives as well as how to grow in the organization. It is important that as the students interview and secure employment with your company, you also share a plan that provides them with the ability to grow in your organization.

Monitoring and measuring progress – During the work-based learning, it is expected that the student will be exposed to a variety of automotive service repairs, which is then reflected on the chart or document to record task completed. Everyone understands that students will participate in and perform some lower-level work, such as routine oil changes, and that this is part of their development process. However, it is important that the manager and mentor understand that the overall student experience must be developmental and progressive to meet predetermined objectives and education standards for such programs. In order to accomplish these goals, it may be necessary for the students to spend time with other technicians in the shop as well, particularly in shops that are highly specialized.

During the work-based learning, both the instructor and mentor must record periodic assessments of the students’ progress. Mentors are also asked to conduct periodic evaluations of the student’s development as an employee, specifically with regards to attitude, ability to work with others, timeliness to work, etc. All these activities assist in managing expectations and providing a solid foundation into the workforce, along with measurable opportunities for pay increases or advancements.

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