How to Find and Train a PPF Apprentice
by Mike Burke
I’ve traveled to many PPF shops around the country and the topic of how to find and train new installers is always up for discussion. At the shop, after hours at the bar, making small talk—the question comes up again and again. It’s no wonder. Training a PPF installer requires a substantive time, money, and material investment. And in the end, there’s no guarantee that investment will pay off. I can train anyone to tint a car competently, but not everyone is cut out to be a great PPF installer. So what steps can you take at the beginning to improve your chances of success? Is there a way to screen candidates early on to maximize the possibility of finding the right person before going through a costly training process, only to be let down? A perfect screening system doesn’t exist, but I have hired and trained many installers over the years, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.
First, be aware of the traits you’re seeking. Everyone knows installing PPF requires patience, attention to detail and the ability to focus and tune out distractions. But what we don’t always consider is that it also requires a high degree of spatial awareness and an ability to visualize an end result in advance. These last two traits are much more difficult to develop and also scarcer, so these should be a focus when narrowing down your candidates. A good place to start is to probe for some artistic ability. I’ve had good success with both painters and graphic designers. Painters have sure hands and are detail-oriented. Graphic designers are even better. They can visualize a complex project and all of the steps to get from start to finish. Plus, they’re probably already familiar with using computer programs for complex layouts, so using cutting software to lay out and nest patterns efficiently will be second nature.
Passion is Key
The second screening is for attitude. This one is tougher, because everyone acts enthusiastically when they want a job. I recommend placing an ad for someone with graphic design experience and hiring them as an assistant to run the plotter. Start by having them cut and weed patterns and wash and prep cars. You’ll start to get a feel for whether they are enthusiastic about learning the rest of the process. Watch them and gauge how interested they are in the actual installation. Let them try their hand at mirrors and small pieces. When you get to a tricky spot, ask them for their opinion on how to approach it. Their answers will tell you if they have the ability to envision how to get a two-dimensional piece of stretchy plastic to stretch and conform to a three-dimensional shape. There should be other clues as well. Are they watching YouTube videos to hone their skills on their own time? Are they coming into the shop in the morning excited about a new technique they saw on Clear Bra Chris’ Instagram stories? This kind of enthusiasm is worth noting.
A Worthwhile Investment
Now that you’ve found a good candidate, send them to PPF school. It’s tempting to think the best way to train an apprentice is “on the job” but this is rarely the case. What is your time worth? How many hours will you spend in training? How much expensive material will end up in the trash? The learning curve with PPF is steep and wasted material—at least initially—is inevitable. Between that and the opportunity cost of spending training time yourself, spending a few thousand dollars to send a promising apprentice to a structured program will more than pay for itself. When they finish the program, they won’t be an expert, but they’ll have a base skill level that you can now develop on paying jobs. Bring in advanced trainers periodically for a fresh perspective. This can help you too. We should never stop honing our skills, and there are always new tips, tricks, and techniques to learn. Now go build a team and put on some stickers.
MIKE BURKE has been in the window film industry for 33 years. His company, Sun Stoppers, has over 35 locations in 16 states and offers residential and commercial tint and decorative film services as well as automotive tint, paint protection, and ceramic coatings. If you have a question for Mike to tackle in a future column, email him at mike@ sunstoppers.com.