And for the technicians who don’t work on engines, there are plenty of course offerings dealing with tires, lifts, transmissions, parts, you name it. “It works because your heavy technology man, you want him to know that engine, and your service tech, well he could be called to one thing one minute, then another thing the next,” Sparks says. “There’s just so much to learn, it’s unfortunate that we can’t keep the guys longer than we have them.”
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
Because of the efforts to keep class sizes small, it’s important to schedule a wide variety of classes, so that everyone has a full week of learning. Fortunately, manufacturers are only too happy to provide training.
“The three big body companies, and Carrier air conditioning, they are pretty much bound by contract to be here,” Sparks explains, although he says that they would come to the event regardless.
Other manufacturers, such as Michelin, get involved through their local Florida vendors. “The tire people that are coming, I asked them through my recapper, Boulevard Tire, if they would come, and they did,” Sparks says. “They couldn’t wait to get here and do it; they were very grateful that we asked them. And this year the Shell Oil Company’s been the same way; they can’t wait to get here and help!
“We’re at a point where, when manufacturers and people understand what we have going on here, they want to be involved,” he goes on. “They know that the more they can teach technicians what their product can do, the better their product’s going to serve them. They’re big supporters of school bus fleets in Florida, and they want to help.”
Sometimes a manufacturer’s desire to help catches the FAPT Committee members off guard, as Callahan relates about one vendor: “About four years ago we got together and said, ‘Look, this guy has been coming for the last nine years. We’re going to give him the year off. We’re not going to ask him, we need to give him a break.’ Next thing we know, he’s on the phone asking, ‘How come I’m not on this year’s list?’ We said, ‘We wanted to give you a break.’ He said, ‘NO! I’ve got that week blocked off already!’ He was upset! We really weren’t slighting him—he had been coming here every year like clockwork, and we really felt we needed to give this guy a rest. We were trying to be nice!”
“Allison Transmission has always been a big, big supporter, also,” Sparks says. “We always rotated from one year to the next between Reliable Transmission Services and Florida Detroit Diesel-Allison. One year I didn’t call the guy from Reliable because it was his year off. Well, the week we were in Kissimmee, he went to Kissimmee—he wanted to know why he didn’t have a classroom! These vendors and suppliers truly strive to keep our business and keep us happy, and they do a lot to take care of us.”
At first glance, the Workshop schedule appears to have a mistake: the certification tests are held on the first two nights of the event. How can you test the technicians when they haven’t even completed—in some cases, haven’t even begun—their classes yet?
Simple: the certification tests cover the technicians’ existing skills and knowledge—the things they know before they arrive at the Workshop. “What we test them on, that’s knowledge that technicians should just know,” Sparks explains. “You don’t come to this program to get yourself prepared for the test. What we’re teaching them this week is, ‘Hey, guys and girls, here’s what your upcoming fleet is going to look like, and you need to learn what’s going to happen to your buses next year.’ So we’re preparing them for next year, but we’re testing them on previous knowledge, and for recertification.”
“We used to give the tests at the end of the week, but the guys were nervous all week. They were wrecks!” Callahan says with a laugh. “They were being tested on whole life knowledge, nothing that we were training them on that week! But they were wrecks; it was terrible. So we backed it up and gave the tests Sunday night and Monday night, just to get it over with!
“The very first tests developed were called ‘Vehicle Service Technician’ and ‘Master Repair Technician,’” he explains. “The VST test was aimed at the person who does light repair: adjust brakes, changing light bulbs, doing cooling systems, and some of those things. The MRT is what we consider the heavy technician, one that was going to do brake jobs and engine overhauls and R&R transmissions.”