Self-Study Management Courses

Is your ability to take time away from the office limited so that you can only attend one classroom seminar a year? Does your travel budget restrict you from attending as many live instructor-led courses as you'd like? Is your business located in a rural area where classroom training isn't readily available? Or, are you simply looking to get an edge over the competition? Chances are you answered "yes" to at least one of these questions, which means it's time to explore alternative ways to complement your management education and training. In particular, training delivered in audio and video formats offers significant benefits and flexibility.

The Automotive Management Institute (AMI), a leading provider of management education for the automotive service industry, has 24 courses available in a variety of audio and video formats. In 2002, AMI reports that use of these self-study programs had tremendous unprecedented growth, with revenue from self-study nearly doubling from the previous year. Approximately 650 AMI students used this format for education in 2002.

These self-study courses are offered in VHS, audio and CD-ROM, and may have accompanying student workbooks, supplementary materials and software. Each package includes an open book test to be completed at the end of the course. There is no limit on the amount of time a student can take to complete the course and submit the exam to AMI. The test is then graded, and a certificate of completion is sent to the student shortly thereafter. Each successfully completed AMI course also earns credit toward AMI's Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) designation.

Courses cover a range of business management topics, including accounting, profit building, personal and career success, handling difficult employees, customers and suppliers, hiring techniques, marketing and mastering maintenance sales. There are also courses on menu pricing, overcoming objections and closing difficult sales, shop management, productivity and telephone skills. In addition to the above, AMI's Automotive Service Management self-study course, which covers sales and marketing, personnel management and business management, is a requirement for the AAM designation and earns students 18 credits (a total of 120 credits is required for the designation). The institute plans to increase its library of self-study courses in audio and video media, while also exploring Web-based delivery of training.

AMI instructor Ned Tomarchio, president of The Automotive Leadership Institute, has given approximately 1,400 instructor-led seminars throughout the United States and Canada, reaching more than 45,000 students. He also has four self-study programs available through AMI and has additional ones in the works, soon to be accredited by AMI. He first introduced self-study approximately nine years ago after identifying shop owners and managers in out-of-the-way places or on limited budgets who needed a cost-effective and affordable way to receive training. "It's not uncommon to find people who have to drive 150 miles to attend a seminar," said Tomarchio. He also cites Department of Commerce statistics that show 190,000 shops have gone out of business since 1990, demonstrating the absolute need for business management training - especially in the areas of cash flow and profitability.

Bob Cooper, president of Elite Business Services, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and an AMI instructor of seminars and home study, first developed audio and video programs for the industry in the early '90s. Cooper has been a business developer, an owner and an operator of some of the most successful auto repair shops in North America. According to Cooper, audio and video allow for home or office-based learning at your pace and on your own schedule, however, there are also other significant benefits. "With this type of media, you can almost perfectly replicate what has been said or viewed by simply rewinding," said Cooper. It also allows team learning among those using the program. "You can hit 'pause' and have a great dialogue about a particular topic or point," said Cooper. He adds that the cost of audio and video training is negligible, especially when compared to the expenses involved in attending a classroom seminar. However, he encourages shop owners and managers to recognize the value of both formats - classroom seminars, and audio and video programs - and that one does not replace the other. "Your learning library should include both," said Cooper. The beauty of audio and video is that it can be used over and over again. "If I need a refresher, I go to one of my tapes and listen to it on my way home," said Cooper.

Tomarchio points out that in addition to using the information as a refresher, the ability to replay the information can serve to revitalize shop owners and managers who, by the nature of the business, face negative situations on a daily basis. In addition, when you most need training, it's usually not available. Audio and video education solves that dilemma, allowing for just-in-time, just-for-me training.

Bob Langdon, CPA and author of Managing Your Business for Profit, says the students who like his self-study course the most are those whom are already successful and looking for an edge - a way to generate even more profits. His program consists of 10 audio CDs, a tutorial workbook and software. Among other features, the software allows students to enter profit and loss numbers and balance sheet numbers and do "what if" scenarios on different ratios. He initially developed the program in 1997 for automotive service business owners and managers who typically have strong technical experience and knowledge, but are weak in the financial end of the business. "Anyone who wants to improve their business financially should use this program. As a result, they'll be able to immediately implement new strategies in their business," said Langdon.

Beyond reading the course description, how do you determine if a self-study program will meet your needs? Ask about the content of the course, and the background of the instructor and the instructor's credentials to teach the program. If you've attended a classroom seminar by the instructor and found it beneficial, there's a good chance the instructor's self-study program will be as helpful. Lastly, don't hesitate to talk to other users of the program to gain their insight and opinion. Kristin Uhler Flory, AAM, manager of Ray's Garage, Creston, Ohio, has attended instructor-led seminars and used five of AMI's self-study programs. "They were really good, very informational and provided a well-rounded view of the subject," said Flory.

Self-study programs take self-motivation and discipline to complete. It's human nature that the things people need the most help with, they often save for last. But Tomarchio offers this helpful reminder that indecision is, in fact, a decision to do nothing. "You can't put off training, regardless of the format," said Tomarchio. "The industry is bright for those who seek training, study and watch what's going on," concludes Tomarchio.


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