The Common Denomonator

YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED THE change in my byline the last two issues. I am now two months into a new position that, in part, has me examining the training needs of equipment fleet technicians. Many of the products these technicians diagnose and service are quite different than motor vehicles, which is still somewhat intimidating. But while there is a lot of assessing left to do, I'm already discovering some things that were no different in the automotive and heavy truck arenas: service technicians mainly need training in systems, not products.

In either case, the root of a technician's abilities lie in his knowledge of the fundamentals—electrical, mechanical, hydraulics, pneumaticsnd his core skills in diagnosis, repair and tool use. These can be expanded to larger systems, such as engines, drive trains, braking, steering, charging, controls, and so forth.

At the end of the training path, the experienced technician can reach higher levels of learning like application and synthesis to use these skills and knowledge to work on multiple products having these systems.

Another fundamental that is not product-sensitive is knowledge of core processes, like logical troubleshooting. 'Thinking skills' often separate the exceptional technicians from the good ones.

I remember a time when I was carrying 20 fewer pounds and a full head of hair, an automotive client of mine and I were laboring over just the right 'bugs' to put in an automatic transmission control systems class. He told me something I'll never forget: "Remember, we want to teach them the drill, not the fault."

His point was that teaching them the right process—the proper diagnostic "process of elimination" and the use of all diagnostic tools including schematics and manuals­—was more important than them linking a specific failure to a specific cause. Things like working from the general to the specific, from the least intrusive tests to the most intrusive, and assessing what was learned at each decision box in a diagnostic flowchart—not just following along blindly—these factors were heavily emphasized in our training.

Although it was some 15 or more years ago at the onset of electronic transmission control systems, I still look back on it as one of the best courses I was ever part of developing.

I have always been a proponent of the notion that intimate knowledge of how something works is crucial to diagnosis. Effective training will break down the operation of a complicated product or system into the smaller core systems. Is there an electrical or electronic control element? If so, where does the power come from and where is it grounded? Can you identify the inputs, control element and outputs? How do the outputs affect motion (mechanical systems) or the flow of fluid (hydraulic system)?

Proper tool use is also fundamental to servicing a wide range of products. Can you read and interpret an electrical multimeter or pressure gauge? Can you look at a schematic and locate the circuit components on a vehicle? Can you read and interpret service procedures, and develop a 'feel' for the hands-on application of each step?

Too much of what I see in both industries is training centered around a product—a newly released vehicle, a new engine, a specific aerial lift or a new body builder interface. That is fine for 'new model' training taken by experienced technicians who only need to learn what's new and different. But for a technician without the foundation in systems and processes, there is little they can take out of such a course that applies to the job.

There is also a place for specific problem-specific fix types of courses. They are in the realm of 'just-in-time' training, and are often more informational than an actual learning experience. In some ways, these may be the training equivalent of a special service bulletin.

I look forward to learning more about the new products I am encountering in the rental equipment industry. But along the way, I intend to find ways to present each of them as a collection of core systems I've been training on for some 20 years.