School bus technicians in the State of Florida have a good thing going. Once a year, they can spend nearly a full week going to OEM training classes, and come away with a certification that can help them take on more responsibility—possibly even a management job—back at the shop.
The annual Technicians' Workshop is the brainchild of the Florida Association for Pupil Transport (FAPT), an organization that has been making sure that Florida schoolchildren have safe, reliable transportation to and from school for the past 60 years.
Robert Morgan, director of transportation, east zone, for Lee County, FL, and chairman of the FAPT Technicians Qualifications And Standards Committee, explains that the Technicians' Workshop started out 18 years ago and has been growing ever since.
"We have a school in Avon Park, where we cooperate with the South Florida Community College, where the classes are held, then at the Suwannee-Hamilton Technical Center in Live Oak," Morgan explains. "We have a school up in the panhandle, and then a school halfway in the middle of the state. So within reason the technicians can get to one of the two locations on the same day."
A solid 32-hour block of instruction starts on Monday afternoon, then ends in time for the technicians to head home on Friday afternoon, Morgan explains, so, in theory, none of the districts should have to pay overtime. The fact that a combined 205 technicians attended the two Workshop events this past June (and the fact that Morgan considers that a light turnout), says a lot about the importance of training to FAPT members.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY
"The courses are constantly changed," Morgan explains. "We had 10 different programs; 10 different classes given at Avon Park this year.
"For instance, if you had an entry-level technician, you could sign him up in one of the blocks of instruction," he says. "They would get bus specification updates—any changes that we're having in the laws—and it would also tell them how the buses are spec'ed out and purchased, and how we make decisions in the committees on product evaluations, to see how things are made, and see how decisions are made on how buses are purchased."
That would be followed up by a class on maintaining wheelchair lifts made by Ricon and a Braun, the two major brands used on Florida school buses. A half day is spent on each manufacturers' products, and the technician receives a certification to work on Ricon or Braun lifts.
"Then they spend a day doing wheels, brakes, tires and seals, so you have your technician who can do that," Morgan goes on. "Then they spend half a day with specialty manufacturing: they teach them how to troubleshoot the stop arms, the eight-way flashers, the student crossing arms, all those idiosyncratic things we have on a school bus.
The next four hours are devoted to troubleshooting Allison Transmissions, followed by a "fuel facts" class about ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, provided by Southeast Power.
"Then they give a small class on anti-freeze, on the importance of long-life antifreeze, and its effect on cavitation in the engine," Morgan explains. "Then we have a class by Permatex, with adhesives and gaskets. Then they have a class on the lap belts and the child restraint systems for the seats we put in buses for the pre-K children, and for the ESE children, how you can identify if they're bad or good."
That's a lot of training in 32 hours. And that's only one of 10 different tracks.
The amount of support from OEMs is nothing short of amazing. Take the three bus manufacturers doing business with the state: Thomas, Blue Bird and International. All three companies send new buses and trainers to make sure technicians know how to diagnose and repair the latest models and components.