For technicians, being certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is a visible sign--to customers, peers and superiors--that they excel in their profession.
It's no different for the technicians who install and repair truck equipment--they just have a different test to take. ASE's E1: Truck Equipment Installation and Repair Specialist certification is designed to identify and recognize truck equipment technicians who can "demonstrate knowledge of the skills necessary to install, diagnose, service and repair truck equipment and related support systems on all classes of trucks and trailers."
The test was first administered in May 1999, and was developed at the behest of the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) Board of Trustees, who wanted to improve the professionalism and recognition of commercial work truck technicians, says NTEA technical services director Bob Raybuck.
"ASE is a well-known and well-valued certification group for mechanics, so the board decided to partner with ASE to develop three certification tests: one around body and equipment installation, which is E1; E2, which is around truck equipment, electronics and electrical requirements, and E3, which is pneumatics and hydraulics in a commercial work truck application," he says. "It was to help increase the value of the industry to the end customer, and let the end customers understand they're dealing with professionals here, not ‘shade tree' mechanics."
Bob Clark, ASE director of Light/Heavy Vehicle Special Testing Programs, says development and update of test questions is a complicated and exacting process that begins with a request from industry (in this case, NTEA) and financial support for the test. The next step is a series of ‘workshops' comprised of ASE staff and subject-matter experts (SMEs) supplied by the industry specific to the test.
"ASE's role is to act as a facilitator in the development process, and to guide the SMEs through the development process that begins with a detailed analysis of the job category in question," Clark says. "The results of this job analysis are the Content Area (main service categories) for the test, and the Task List (job-skills list) that further defines each content category."
NTEA played the key role in establishing the E1 test, and the organization has helped maintain the testing ever since. Raybuck says the organization's goal now is to help ASE devise questions for the future that are relevant and easily understood by truck equipment technicians. He says one of the best ways to do that is by gathering input for test questions from shop managers and foremen--the ones who have to deal with maintenance issues first-hand.
Because of this, NTEA's Raybuck says the ASE certification provides a measure of confidence for the end customer.
"You know that the technicians understand what they are doing: they are going to do a safe, proper installation of bodies and equipment and properly take care of it," he says. "You'll be confident (about) the vehicle you're getting from these organizations that have the ASE-certified mechanics; know that they understand what the proper techniques and have actually gone through the certification process to show that knowledge, so you can be more confident in having a safe vehicle built by a technician with a greater knowledge base.
"If you don't do the first part properly, it's hard to repair it properly," he says.
While not every company has ASE-certified technicians, Raybuck says NTEA's goal is to have all its distributor members or outfitting members who have people installing bodies and equipment on vehicles to have their technicians ASE certified.
ASE certification is also important to repair shops, where technicians with the designation are valuable, Raybuck says. So much so that in some shops, managers tell their new technicians that becoming certified is part of their employment.
SAMPLE TASK LIST
ASE provides a Sample Task List for the E1 Certification test, so that technicians have an overview of what they might be tested on. The sample tasks break down into four main areas, and Raybuck explains the importance of each:
Frame preparation--"Every truck manufacturer has its own list of dos and don'ts concerning the frame. So (for a technician) to demonstrate an understanding of those dos and don'ts shows his skills and shows that he knows not to do something outside of what he's supposed to be doing.
"It's understanding that you have to maintain the integrity of the frame, and so certain body and equipment installations have to be done in a proper format that maintains the strength of the frame and doesn't weaken it. For example, a lot of this deals with where you can and cannot drill holes in the frame itself. Upper and lower frame flange: don't do it. The web of the frame yes, but, you can't just drill anywhere; only certain locations.
"And there are certain maximum diameters. All of that can be very important in how somebody mounts a peice of equipment properly and maintains the robustness of the frame, versus improperly, which could weaken the frame and shorten the life-cycle of the vehicle."
Suspension systems--"Vehicles with a lot of electronics in them, or a lot of computer systems, will often need a ride-softening format, versus a heavy-truck harshness format. Suspension can also involve lengthening or shortening the wheelbase, or I may need to improve the vehicle attitude, or maintain the vehicle attitude. In some cases I might be putting something heavy on one side, so now I may need to add an additional helper spring on one side to maintain left-to-right balance.
"In certain sized vehicles, the OEMs have a tendency to say, ‘We want a nice, smooth ride,' and that sounds like a wonderful idea, but if I'm AT&T and my full-bodied van is at 90 percent GVWR the second it leaves the first day, and it doesn't go down from there, they may put in additional helper springs, or air bag systems or rubberized suspensions that help keep them off the stops, but help maintain the vehicle so it's not squatting in the rear all the time."
Drive shaft preparations--"In the medium-duty truck market, the dealer, for his general spec' truck, will often pick the longest wheelbase available. Now, the customer comes in with a specific need, and the truck has too long a wheelbase on this application. Well, the easiest thing to do is to shorten the wheelbase by unbolting the suspension and sliding everything forward properly, but with those changes, I now have to re-do my driveshaft.
"Or, if I have a PTO application, and I have a driveshaft to my pump, that has to be in proper phase, U-joints have to be properly lubricated, it has to be spinning at the proper speed, so you're not causing warpage. All those key items need to be looked at."
Body & equipment--"Prepping is painting, wiring, properly getting everything set, and then installation is following the OEM's or body manufacturer's recommeded practice for attaching it to the truck frame itself. Do I have the proper cushion strips and spacer, am I fitting everything properly for fuel fill applications? If I'm installing a hoist for a dump body, have I filled the first hydraulic cylinder with oil before I start?"
Unfortunately, the training available from traditional industry sources for the Truck Equipment Tests is "somewhat sparse," at this point, says Clark, though that hasn't made much of a difference in the percentages of technicians who pass the test, as compared to others.
"Since ASE tests assess job skills knowledge, professionals working successfully in the category should be able to pass by relying on their work experience," he says. "Some shops, however, are organized by specialty departments, so technicians may not have the scope of experience necessary to be successful."
In those cases, Clark says maintenance managers can step up and provide their technicians with ASE Truck Equipment ‘Study Guides'--available at no cost from ASE. The organization does not provide training for the tests, though--for good reason, Clark says.
"We could certainly train individuals to pass our tests, but then ASE Certification would be an evaluation of our training program, instead of an assessment of an individual's job-skills knowledge," he says.
Clark says the best way to prepare for the test is to carefully review the Task List and take a "personal knowledge inventory" on each listed task, and work from there.
Although Clark says study materials are sparse, enterprising technicians and their managers can find top-notch training materials through suppliers such as Delmar, a part of Cengage Learning.
Kristen Davis, director of transportation industry solutions for the Clifton Park, NY-based company, says the company's ASE training series is a "core competency" for a business that's been around since 1945.
According to Davis, Delmar will release its E1 test materials in Spring 2009 to give technicians a way to prepare for the certification exam.
"We call this our ‘Assess, Train and Certify Model,''' she says. "The ‘assess' is the skill analysis, the ‘training' is the training products we have and the ‘certify' is the preparatory products that we have to help technicians become certified."
Delmar's E1 materials include a history of ASE as well as guidelines, techniques and strategies for taking and passing the certification exam. An overview of the task list follows, detailing the most recent procedures used to properly install, diagnose, service, and repair truck equipment and related support systems. At the core of the book's training methods are the ASE-style practice questions and answer rationales, which allow readers to apply their knowledge and practice putting it to use in a format that mimics the certification testing environment.
"An individual using our ASE test preparation materials is more prepared to sit for and successfully pass the ASE certification exam," says Davis, who served as the Work Order Skills Station Chairperson at the recent TMCSuperTech2008 competition.
Becoming ASE-certified is an important step in a technician's career development. As of spring 2008, more than 350,000 repair technicians were ASE-certified, including 2,093 who have passed the E1 exam.
"Our surveys tell us that, all things being equal, employers prefer to hire an ASE-certified professional," Clark says. "Enhanced employability is an important factor, especially in times of economic uncertainty."
Go to www.fleetmag.com to see a sample E1 Certification Task List