A common misconception among those of us on the development end of the training business is that, if we just exhaust ourselves putting together the highest quality, most topical, most instructionally sound training course, it will sell. Like the line in Field of Dreams says, we believe, "If you build it, they will come."
Those of us who push for the training—and who have done the research on technician knowledge and skill gaps—know that good training is essential for anyone wanting to move forward in the vehicle maintenance business. J. Kenneth Cerny, Ed.D., a former president of the Automotive Training Managers Council (ATMC) and one of my instructional design mentors, wrote an article in the mid-1990's entitled: "Who Will Fix Our Cars?" While that was written at the onset of the OBD-II and I/M 240 panic, its theme still rings true today.
Today's automotive and medium/heavy vehicle technicians are in dire need of acquiring additional skills and knowledge in advanced electronics and advanced driveability diagnosis. Soon, if not now, they will be dealing with complex alternative propulsion systems. Despite our efforts in training, many still do not have the basic electrical and computer skills to feed into the more advanced items. Many cannot read and comprehend at a high enough level to use today's complicated service information.
We think the technicians and fleet operators should just know that continual education is a good idea. Yet, I still hear comments from professional trainers like Paul Whelan of EAST, Inc. (and another past president of ATMC) who says, "A very frustrating thing is the complacency of technicians regarding training. The majority do not have a professional attitude toward keeping up with technology and attending ongoing training. Their idea of training is to attend a $25 parts store sales seminar. We have been conducting under-attended training classes in-house since last fall.
"The truth is they look for every excuse to not attend training. It's too hot, it's too cold, it's supposed to snow, I have a ball game or bowling that night… everything is more important than training. It's also ‘too expensive.' But, these same people will call next week, after spending numerous expensive labor hours, looking for help on a problem car that they can't fix. We have had technicians tow cars to our facility that they have been working on for weeks. We usually find the problem in minutes. Most are basic problems such as open pick-up coils, sensors, compression/mechanical problems and blown fuses. You can't get more basic than that!"
And, knowing Paul, his professionalism and his dedication to improving the vehicle service industry, the problem is not that the training is bad or worthless. Nor is the problem with the entire technician population. "All the technicians that do attend love it, and can't understand why we don't have a full house. We have one out-of-town shop that sends two men who stay for two days every month to attend our classes." And, while Paul mainly deals with the aftermarket, he adds, "We provide training to several fleets, and have found that they are in the same boat as independent technicians."
As trainers and training developers, I truly feel our industry has made a huge effort (the $25 parts seminars notwithstanding) to improve the quality and instructional integrity of our courses. The industry is reaching out more and more to younger technicians with Web-based and simulation-based training, where appropriate. But we have utterly failed in getting out the message regarding the value of training.
If I have done anything on this page, I hope I have convinced fleet operators and technicians that training only has value if the acquired skills and knowledge can be applied on the job. And often, it is the more expensive training program that provides the detailed, objective-based materials and evaluations to ensure that the training is relevant to job performance.
As a fleet maintenance manager, you have a right to be assured that with the costs of training come benefits—both monetary and non-monetary. The cheap training provider is likely not going to make any such promises, nor follow up with you to ensure the new skills are being implemented.
As training providers, our industry needs an ally in the fleet operator. Not just for ourselves, but for the sake of those vehicles on the road and the drivers behind the wheel.
My thanks to Paul Whelan for his contributions to this article. For more information on EAST, Inc., go to www.easttraining.com