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Competency Pilot Project


Business Involved

Muffler Shop, Belleville, Ontario



This was a long-established and successful business that thrived in the face of competition from big chains. The owner wished to retire and sold the business on the condition that his staff be retained. The business had eight or nine employees depending on the season. All the employees, both full time and part time, were long term. With the owner’s retirement and the sale of the business, two employees also decided to retire. The new owner was not as well versed in the nature of the business and wanted to take advantage of the experience, knowledge and skills of the retiring owner. The retiring owner engaged a competency consultant to assist with the work.



Agreement was reached between the retiring owner and the new owner that both technical and non-technical competencies were to be part of the project. The retiring owner agreed to co-manage the shop for a period of approximately one month. At first the new owner was to “job shadow”. The new owner listed everything that the retiring owner did for the first week and, in addition, reviewed all work orders produced in the same period.


Initial Results

It became clear that the retiring owner had an approach to customer service, wherein he demonstrated a significant non-technical skill set. He was direct, friendly and projected honesty and trustworthiness. In some cases, he did not charge for minor fixes or for advice. It also became clear that the garage “floor” staff all seemed to follow the retiring owner’s approach. They took time to speak with customers, explain the situation with client’s vehicles and generally interact. The review of the work orders was informative, but there was a consensus that the tasks conducted by all employees were required, particularly in light of the impending retirement of two long-term mechanics.


Second Stage

The consultant and new owner assisted the mechanics and floor manager to itemize all tasks required to complete the work as described in the work orders. The tasks were mapped to each work order. After hours the consultant, retiring owner and new owner reviewed the work orders and task lists. The retiring owner was able to identify “special” skills that each employee had. He had, without realizing it, developed a filter so that jobs were assigned to the person with the most appropriate skill set.


Second Stage Results

The competency team (CT) reached the conclusion that some essential skills were about to be lost with the retiring mechanics. That meant that the new owner, even if he understood and learned the retiring owner’s “filter”, would not have access to all of the skills that were at the shop at the time of the study. A staff day was held to review the competency framework that had been developed. Several mechanics identified skills and competencies that had not been identified. It was decided that the two long term mechanics due to retire would be retained as competency developers for the remaining staff and as mentors and trainers for any new hires. Advertisements for new mechanics were placed in local and regional media.

Third Stage

The recording of tasks continued and a system was developed to use competency reference numbers developed by the staff during the staff day. The entire staff got involved and animated discussions resulted regarding best practices, personal skills gap remediation and defining which competencies, technical and non-technical the new hires should be required to have. The CT discussed the fact that the new owner had a significantly different personality. He was more withdrawn and somewhat uncomfortable with customer interaction.


Third Stage Results

The CT developed a “training” process for the new owner. It involved such items as introducing himself. He also practiced the retired owner’s habit of introducing customers to each other. The new owner also agreed that the Floor Manager could very competently take on some of the customer interaction duties while the new owner became more comfortable. Twenty-Three (23) applications were received. Each applicant was then asked to self assess based on the main competencies that were required. The applicants were asked to be prepared to prove or demonstrate each of the main competencies required. The applicants were also informed that they would be expected to demonstrate an acceptance of the “culture” of “small town” service used by the business. This element would be assessed during any interview(s) and during a six (6) month probationary period. A short list of 4 candidates was developed. Of the 23 original applicants, 9 did not submit the self evaluation. The consultant was able to contact 6 of them and determined that in each case, the job was not what they expected and/or they felt their skill set did not match. An example was a mechanic who had dealt exclusively with large truck transmission for 15 years and did not feel that his skills were current in brake, suspension, steering, and exhaust work. Two new employees were engaged and successfully completed their 6 month probationary period. Both new candidates had learning contracts with the business and were assigned a different peer mentor on a revolving (weekly) basis. One of the new mechanics was a Russian immigrant who had only been in Canada for 2 years.

Summary Results

The competency framework is posted in the shop. All of the remaining employees have a learning contract with the business to master those competencies identified as gaps in their skill set. The new owner has maintained business volumes and the business continues to thrive. One of the “chain” operators closed as a result of poor volumes. To this day the new owner and the mechanics enthusiastically tweak the competency lists. One of the mechanics has been a “guest” of the local college to describe the process and its impact on the business.


Research report

Immigrant Labour Market Integration in York Region and Toronto

Identifying Needs and Opportunities for Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises

Contact Info

Think Talent, Think Global

17705 Leslie Street, Unit 11, Newmarket, ON Canada