Laura Soave is senior vice president, chief marketing and communications officer, Federal-Mogul Motorparts.
Prior to joining Federal-Mogul in 2014, Soave was vice president and chief executive officer, FIAT brand, Chrysler Group LLC, where she successfully led the reintroduction of the FIAT brand to North America. Previously, Soave held various positions of increasing responsibility with Volkswagen Group of America in experiential marketing, product marketing and communications. She began her automotive career with Ford Motor Co., in 1997 as part of the Ford College Graduate program and subsequently held the positions of zone manager, franchise coordinator, marketing manager and brand DNA manager.
Soave earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Walsh College of Accountancy and Business Administration, in Troy, Michigan, and a master’s degree in business administration from The University of Detroit Mercy, in Detroit, Michigan.
In today’s AMN Executive Interview, Soave shares with us some updates on the Federal-Mogul Motorparts Garage Gurus program – which celebrated its three-year anniversary this past month – and new initiatives for the company, as well as her advice to women pursuing careers in the aftermarket industry.
Federal-Mogul Motorparts celebrated the three-year anniversary of the Garage Gurus program in March. What has the company learned, now three years in, about what and how technicians need to be supported with training and resources today? What changes have you made as a result?
We’ve learned a lot and have also accomplished a great deal. By far the most important lesson we’re learning each day is that the industry’s skills gap isn’t a future crisis – it is profoundly impacting the industry right now.
When we launched Garage Gurus in 2015, our stated mission was to arm technicians with the tools needed to be successful in a very fast-paced and competitive industry. It has become abundantly clear that we and other industry organizations need to expand the content and reach of our technical education initiatives to include service writers, parts professionals and the next generation of technicians coming out of vocational schools and high school programs. The need for high-value, highly accessible technical education exists at every level of the aftermarket, and our collective future as a vital, growing industry depends on our ability to solve this problem.
There also have been several lessons that have come from our early successes. First, we’ve shown that it’s crucial to develop a multi-dimensional training platform that reaches users when, where and how they choose to participate. That’s why Garage Gurus includes not only 13 modern, regional technical education centers, but also a growing fleet of Gurus-On-the-Go product technology vans, eLearning modules, live webinars, free online technical forums, a powerful mobile app and rewards programs that benefit both the training participant and business owner. We have even piloted Facebook Live training sessions, with real-time question-and-answer opportunities, at various times throughout the year.
What have we changed? Our scale is now significantly greater, with 12 training centers in the U.S. and our newest being completed in the Toronto area. The Gurus initiative has been expanded to the APAC region in China, and is known as “Kung Fu Masters,” offering classroom training, online courses and a fleet of mobile vans to technicians.
Additionally, we are exploring potential training locations in Mexico and have concrete plans for expansion into Europe this spring. Our fleet of product technology vans has grown to 35 and we have 14 trained professionals who are answering calls and responding to emails throughout the day. Our curriculum has become very broad and deep, and we will soon debut a highly user-friendly new digital platform offering hundreds of eLearning opportunities in multiple languages. This year, we also established a free, online community where technicians can connect with other technicians to exchange information on difficult diagnostic and repair issues. Garage Forum was set up expressly to give them the chance to interact and to share experiences, which will give them access to further information that they may not necessarily have at the ready.
We’re also collaborating with more channel partners and service chains to augment their own training initiatives and ultimately benefit more front-line professionals. Several other large OE and aftermarket companies also are beginning to discuss the technician shortage, and all the challenges we, as an industry, face. We want to build more of these partnerships to enable other organizations to leverage our network and resources.
For example, we also are partnering with Mike Rowe and his MikeRoweWORKS Foundation. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity that rewards people with a strong work ethic by giving them scholarships to get trained for skilled jobs. The Foundation also challenges the belief that a four-year degree is automatically the best path for most people. Mike has spoken extensively about the widening skills gap for many years, which helps get the word out about the great career paths that exist for technicians and other skilled trades.
There are a lot of suppliers that both individually and collectively have worked together to offer training to the industry in a variety of ways. How does the Garage Gurus program differ from the rest?
We’ve been in the unique position of being able to invest in what we believe is a transformative technical education platform. You would be hard-pressed to convince the boards of most publicly traded companies to carve out millions of dollars for an initiative like this. Technical education should not be viewed as a revenue source – it’s an investment in the future of our industry. Garage Gurus grew out of a larger initiative called “Tech First,” through which Federal-Mogul Motorparts is applying significant capital toward strengthening the competitive position of front-line service businesses.
In addition, whereas some supplier-sponsored programs are ultimately aimed at addressing a comparatively narrow range of service categories, Garage Gurus has been built to serve as a single, comprehensive source of valuable technical information and skills for professionals at any shop or parts business. It’s important not to lose sight of the time challenges facing today’s techs – they have hard jobs and busy lives. It’s not realistic to expect them to invest their time and energy in training content that’s of inconsistent quality and is delivered on a piecemeal basis.
What has surprised Federal-Mogul Motorparts most in terms of the way technicians utilize training resources such as Garage Gurus?
We have been surprised by the tremendous reception we have received from technicians and service shops as well as those channel partners who have chosen to collaborate. The threats inherent in today’s skills gap aren’t unique to any specific business – they affect us all. If we don’t work together to arm front-line professionals with the latest and best information and tools, the aftermarket will find itself at a distinct competitive disadvantage. Similarly, if we don’t coordinate efforts to attract the next generation of industry professionals – counter people, shop owners, machinists, and technicians – I fear we won’t have the capacity to meet demand for our products and services.
What trends are you seeing within the technician pool in terms of the interest in committing to training – what are the barriers you hear about most?
Above all, there is tremendous demand among technicians for high-quality, highly accessible technical education. The barriers we face include the reluctance among techs to invest in training that will take them away from their jobs. There are some shop owners who are equally reluctant to lose a tech for half a day or more. Garage Gurus addresses these challenges by offering training in a variety of venues and formats. If the tech can’t access one of our technical education centers, we can dispatch one of our
Gurus-On-The-Go product technology vans to offer training for the entire shop. Any industry professional will be able to enhance their skills across multiple product and service categories through our expanded eLearning academy at FMGarageGurus.com.
What about new technicians coming in to the field? There is a significant push to address the growing labor shortage in the repair field, which was recently reported to be even bigger than initially projected. How is Federal-Mogul Motorparts involved in addressing this?
We’re addressing it in multiple ways, including establishing strong relationships with leading regional tech schools and similar programs. In addition, for the fourth consecutive year, we are funding 12 tuition scholarships for qualified students enrolled in accredited automotive technology programs across the U.S. and Canada. We also are investing in an aggressive, sustained social media program designed to promote the industry among millions of young people who are looking for a promising career. The aftermarket has a great story to tell – we’re taking that story to a much wider audience through a wide range of digital activities.
You mentioned that Federal-Mogul Motorparts/Garage Gurus held three Facebook Live events this past year. How did these fare with your target audience? Will you do more of them? How important is social media for the Garage Gurus program?
The aftermarket isn’t immune to the digital revolution. Our Facebook Live events, webinars, mobile apps and other digital tools are touching a much larger audience than we could ever hope to reach through traditional means. Thousands of technicians, service writers and parts professionals are using their phones and tablets to look up, price and order parts.
They’re watching training videos, exchanging tech tips and accessing manufacturer information on an ongoing basis, often to answer a question or solve a problem associated with a vehicle that’s sitting on the lift. Garage Gurus is already deeply engaged with many of these professionals through our mobile app and social activities, and we’re increasing our reach by the thousands each year.
On a more personal note: As a woman in a high-profile position in the automotive aftermarket, what is your advice to women who would like to establish themselves in this industry?
First and foremost, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
The more information and understanding you have of any business, the more you will be able to make a positive impact, as the aftermarket industry is one of the most complex that I’ve ever encountered. Likewise, never hesitate to share your best ideas and put forth your best effort. This principle has helped drive my career and our own organization’s success. This industry is powered not by men or women, but by bright minds and hard work. Having come from the OE sector several years ago, I have been extremely impressed by the skills, talent and dedication of the people I have met at every level of the aftermarket value chain.