Access is Everything

A service repair business can rise or fall on the know-how and skills of its technicians. Therefore, continuous training is the best way to keep up to date with rapidly changing vehicle technology.

There is some concern in the industry whether independent repair shops will have access to all of the technical service information needed to repair the commercial vehicles of tomorrow. To explore the general state of the situation, I researched among our members for what type of information and training is available.

The result of my brief, non-scientific investigation? Training and technical information is plentiful. Most Heavy Duty Manufacturer Association members have everything from detailed Websites, toll-free tech lines, in-the-field technical support, train-the-trainer programs, tech sheets, bulletins, and even CDs and DVDs.

According to Rick Martin, manager, Technical Training and Publications for Meritor, independent truck repair shops do have a harder time receiving technical training, whether it be from the OEM or supplier. However, the key point is that training is available.

Meritor, like many HDMA members, provides technical training to all technicians whether they are from the OEM, fleet, WD or independent shop. Their philosophy is that any technician who repairs a Meritor product needs to be trained and Meritor will provide that training. Many other suppliers in our industry share that philosophy.

It is important to note that independent shops that focus on the engine have challenges obtaining information from the OEMs and engine makers. The information is available, you just need to know how to gain access to it.

Unfortunately, the independent shop simply may not be aware of training provided by the OEM or supplier. Some responsibility lies with the OEMs to make the information available, but the onus is upon the shops to do a little investigating on their own.

Another issue is tuition. Some OEMs and suppliers charge from $500 to $2,000 for technical training, which may not be affordable for all independent shops. And, if the tuition is affordable, there is the concern that the newly-trained technician may decide to leave the shop and take your investment somewhere else. And what about the loss of revenue when the technician is not at the shop building billable hours?

I spoke with Marc Karon, CEO of Total Truck Parts, Inc., who said that time away from the shop is the critical factor. "We can't tell a customer that the repair will be four to six days out because we have someone at training," he said. "Our customers are very concerned about turnaround time."

Karon doesn't skimp on training, however. Rather he employs an innovative strategy. His company asks that the suppliers send a technical expert or trainer to his facilities for on-site training. The suppliers that agree to do this get Total Truck Parts' business.

Karon also noted that training is a tremendous incentive for the mechanic. "It's critical to recruit good ones and difficult to keep them once you have them," he said. "Anything to make your company more attractive to a mechanic helps. Training is a positive motivator. Through training, they feel like they are advancing within their occupation."

Additionally, the Internet makes finding technical information easier than ever. Many suppliers now offer 24/7, on-demand, online, Web-based courses that can be completed based on any schedule.

Neil Middleton, CEO of Middleton and Meads Co., agrees that the Internet has made things easier. "There isn't a question about enough information online, it's a matter of how to get this information from the Web and put into a usable format."

Middleton's 75-bay, three-facility service business also has a unique training program. They have a 32-plus year industry veteran in the role of a full-time trainer. He has developed one-hour training modules on specific jobs by obtaining information from various sources, including the local dealers. The next time the mechanic has to do that specific job, he is watched and, if the service is done properly, gets certified for that specific job.

Independent shops have to think out-of-the-box today more than ever, and view ongoing training as a cost of doing business. Continuous education of your technicians will make your shop more marketable and perhaps give your shop a competitive advantage. More importantly, if you can't get the repair done, there is a good chance you won't see that customer again.