Using an apprenticeship program to lower turnover and cut service time.
Fuchs Copy Systems, in West Allis, Wis., sells copiers. But as anyone who's ever confronted a broken-down copier can tell you, the important thing about a copier isn't how you buy it. It's how fast it can be fixed. So Jim Fuchs's company lives or dies on the strength of his 30 service people.
When a member of Fuch's service team became sick or left the company, replacing him was tough. So to attract potential service technicians, he developed an apprenticeship program for area high school and college students. Periodically, he runs a "career night" and also donates copiers to the schools' workshops, so students can work on them. Students accepted into the apprentice program can work during the summer or part-time.
To give them a taste of the business, apprentices were assigned an especially messy job: rebuilding the developer units of the copiers. It was a brilliant move. The senior technicians, who previously would have had to rebuild a developer at the customer's work site, could now simply insert an already-renovated unit. That cut servicing time and improved the company's workmanship. It also forced the shop to become much more organized about figuring out benchmarks for the apprentices to hit.
Fuchs captured the pool of technical people he needed. On average he's made one permanent hire per year for the past five years -- and not one has left. "The best hires," says Fuchs, "have a preexisting relationship with you that allows for more evaluation on both sides than an interview does."