New Tricks

By now, we've all heard the results of the Technology & Maintenance Council's SuperTech2006 technician's skills competition: Tyson W. Sontag, Gentry, AR, a technician for McKee Foods, took first prize.

We congratulate Mr. Sontag and every competitor in the event, and we look forward to an even bigger and better competition next September in Nashville, TN.

At this year's event in Austin, TX, I had an interesting talk with Roger Maye, with Consolidated Metco (ConMet), about what he as a trainer gets out of the competition. Roger was helping to run the Wheel Ends skill stations, and he felt that by helping evaluate the performance of the competitors, he was himself learning to become a better trainer.

After the competition, I asked Roger if he would be willing to share his insights with our readers, and of course he said "yes" without hesitation. Here are the notes and observations Roger sent me:

"I have had the opportunity to observe over 100 mechanics in various skills challenge competitions around the country this past year. One thing was very obvious. There is a big difference between mechanics and in the way each of them completed the hands-on and written portions of the test.

"In the events I was involved in, I instructed the contestants to first identify what system they were working on, then obtain the proper service instructions, and complete the task or answer the questions based on those service instructions.

"I feel that as changes continue to occur in equipment, it is increasingly important that the proper service information be consulted before attempting to service the vehicle.

"I watched as some technicians struggled to properly identify the system and find the proper service instructions, while others quickly identified the system or component, located the proper service information, and followed it line by line to complete the task. It became clear to me that as manufacturers it is important that we make our systems easy to identify and that we make our service information readily available in an easy to understand, user friendly format.

"I have also begun to modify the way I train technicians based on my observations at the skills challenges. I am using more hands-on training aids rather than just trying to explain the way the system works and what the proper service procedures are. I also am using people from the audience to actually complete the task, rather than doing the demonstration myself.

Some tasks require specialized test and measuring equipment like volt ohm meters, dial indicators, or computers. Rather than assuming that everyone knows how to properly use the equipment, I am presenting a brief explanation and instructions about what the test equipment is and how it works. If possible, or applicable, I am showing other options that may be available for taking the measurements or completing the test.

"As vehicle systems continue to evolve and become more complicated, it will be increasingly important that we as manufacturers make our components easy to identify and that we have the proper service information readily available. It is important that we have the proper training support available in the field for more complicated systems.

"In more and more cases, industry service information and training support will probably be in the form of on line internet programs. Knowledge of the internet and internet availability in the shop will become more important than ever. As manufacturers, our challenge will be to provide our training support and service information in an effective format."

So there you have it: it isn't just technicians who learn new tricks at competitions. Sharp instructors can use the experience of helping to run the competition to improve their training styles and techniques, as Roger Maye has.

The big thing Roger learned is that service information can make or break a repair. It's not enough that the technician has the right service information available. He or she has to know where it is, take the time to consult it, and then follow through on what he or she learns from it.

That's a good lesson for any technician, and any maintenance shop.