Jump Start Your Techs

After a few decades of more and more electrical complexity being added to vehicles and equipment, and after an entire generation has been raised on computers, electrical skills and knowledge remain the most sought after competencies for fleet technicians. In survey after survey, what do technicians and their supervisors consistently say they need?

More electrical training.

There are many good options available for electrical training. But let's first back up and look at the structure of an electrical curriculum before considering individual courses. A typical structure would be as follows:

  • Basic electricity (self-study)
  • Electrical and electronic systems (self-study)
  • Electrical tools and testing (self-study or hands-on)
  • Electrical testing and repairs (hands-on)
  • Electrical and electronic systems diagnosis (hands-on)

The first one or two courses may have been taught at the trade school level, but having the affected technician go through the self-study courses as a refresher is not a bad idea. This is especially true if the technician has not used his electrical knowledge on the job for an extended period of time. Make sure this phase includes something on batteries, starting and charging—battery testing has shown to be an often overlooked skill in a technician's training history.

The third and fourth course—some type of electrical tools, testing and wiring repair training—are most frequently skipped. Many technicians are taken from some basic electrical course and expected to jump right to diagnosing electrical faults on actual products. There is an important intermediate step that should be taken to allow the technician to work on electrical fault diagnosis in a controlled setting and in a non-intrusive manner.

There are numerous options for the intermediate phase. Some fairly advanced interactive training is available on CD or online. Most of the online courses are charged as either a seat license or one-time licensing fee. The better option may depend on the size of your fleet. A large fleet with technicians in many locations may find the licensing fee is the less expensive option, while a fleet with only a handful of technicians might opt for the seat fee.

There are also numerous third-party providers of hands-on electrical training. These can be of varying lengths and quality. One thing you should absolutely look for is a course where every student in the class has a chance to individually work on electrical circuits. This often means a setting where each student has his own electrical "bread board" where faults can be created and diagnosed with individual attention and coaching by the facilitator. Such courses also give trainees the chance to apply electrical schematics to live circuits, which will help them make the leap to on-vehicle circuits.

Some of these courses may also incorporate electronics into the classroom equipment. Assess your needs to determine if this is required for your fleet technicians.

In recent years, I have seen some electrical training providers who have begun selling the course materials—customizable bread boards, student worksheets, instructor guides, etc... and then providing the equipment and train-the-trainer services to a customer. This may work well for you if you have a master electrical technician who is looking for new responsibilities. Give him or her the chance to be your fleet's electrical trainer!

After the technician has reached this point in his training—and only after—should you be looking at system-specific training on the actual vehicle or product. Advanced techniques such as voltage drop testing and electronic control systems diagnosis would be acquired here.

As with all training, do your homework on the training provider. Ask to see course objectives, and make sure those objectives are evaluated at the end of the training. Some providers may even offer post-training follow-up in the form of teleconference or "WebEx" sessions. This can be valuable for those first few months when the technician begins to use the newly acquired skills and knowledge on the job.

Also take the time to assess the needs of your fleet. Technicians may be able to jump in at various points of the curriculum structure, based on previous education and/or experience.