Stay Fresh!

In last month’s Training article, I stressed the importance of ensuring knowledge and skills in fundamentals and core systems, rather than in products. That is still your primary consideration when building a training structure or curriculum for your technicians. There is a place, however, for training on new tools, products and/or systems changes. It goes at the top of your training path as “update” or “new model” training.

The diagram on the right shows a pyramid-style learning structure for a fleet maintenance and service technician. A newly hired technician with little or no experience would start at the bottom of the pyramid and work upward. With each successive level up, the learning content gets narrower and more focused. New model/update training is the narrowest and most specific to a product, so it goes in the smallest space at the top (your operation may subdivide Level Two into both intermediate and advanced courses).

New Model Training (NMT) should always be part of your overall training strategy, because most equipment and systems are constantly changing. New or updated regulations on state and Federal levels can also affect a technician’s job. Even a master diesel technician cannot be expected to diagnose an exhaust aftertreatment system on a 2007-level light truck engine without some amount of training.

When determining a plan for NMT, consider first the technician(s) you plan to send. Do they have all of the prerequisite skills and knowledge required? For example, a technician will have a hard time learning to use laptop-based diagnostic software to look at the operating parameters of diesel emissions sensors if he has never learned about multiplexed electrical systems. And a sophisticated body builder option will be difficult to grasp without knowledge of the vehicle electrical systems that interface with the add-on equipment.

As for NMT course material, it is important that it be focused on what is truly new and different in areas that affect the technician’s job. Some NMT courses try to present everything that is new on a particular product or system, including “cosmetic” changes that have no effect on how a technician diagnoses or services the system. For instance, a component that is now fastened by three bolts instead of four—but operates the same in the system—is probably not worth covering. But if the same component now has a heat shield that must be removed to access two of the bolts, that does affect the technician and should be addressed in training.

Also consider the format for NMT courses. If updates are minor and the technician mostly needs knowledge or “awareness” of the changes, a self-study format (DVD/video, Web-based, CD-ROM, etc.) is appropriate. If new tools and/or significantly new procedures are introduced, request a hands-on course of some kind.

A nice side effect of new model/update training is that it often provides some “refresher” information for the technician that has not attended training for a while. Perhaps some previously acquired knowledge or skill they haven’t used on the job very often is now re-introduced on the new product or system.

Incorporating a new model strategy into your overall training plan not only keeps your technicians up to date, but maintains their sharpness and hones critical thinking abilities. In the words of one of my most quoted training gurus, Dr. Robert F. Mager, training can be thought of as “filling a large tank that has a hole in the bottom… unless you keep filling the tank, it will eventually run dry.”

Stephen Howe is employed by United Rentals, the largest equipment rental company in the world with nearly 700 branches in North America. Stephen is also a past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council (ATMC), a global, non-profit organization of over 60 member companies dedicated to recognizing training excellence and raising training standards in the automotive, heavy vehicle and related industries.