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"So all of a sudden we had a lot of smaller garages that were getting diesel vehicles and didn't have people who had never worked on diesels before,"she goes on. "We had a lot of training to do, and mixed classes, where you had a guy who had been a diesel technician all his life and then guys who had never touched a diesel truck before. That was the first big change."

Today, Karim says, the USPS fleet is dealing with another change, one that's as big, if not bigger, than the changeover to diesel.

It can be summed up in one word that can either make a fleet maintenance manager's life a carefree wonderland, or an endless headache. The word is: computers.

In the next few years the USPS will be replacing the bulk of its fleet on both the diesel and the gasoline sides, and the proliferation of computers in the new vehicles has the NCED staff scrambling.

"We've got new cargo vans we that are so far out there and state-of-the-art that even the dealers are having a hard time repairing them under warranty,"says Karim. "My metaphor is 'We've gone kicking and screaming from dinosaurs to star wars.'"

Technical training instructor Bob Chambers agrees. "It's like going from conestoga wagons into the internal combustion era. It's almost that dramatic."

"The body computer on the new truck controls the air suspension, the tag axle, a lot of the lighting, the wiper system, the air conditioning—it even has a code for the dome light!"Chambers says. "It's things that we've never had to deal with before."

As a result, Karim and her staff have been focusing on electrical troubleshooting training. In fact, the basic classes are now prerequisites for all other vehicle maintenance courses.

"Basic analytical troubleshooting skills is a big one; getting people to think logically and apply problem solving skills,"says Karim. "You can teach people things by rote, but what happens when you get to the end of the diagnostics and you still have the problem? Especially since components are getting so expensive, it can eat up a lot of money if you're not troubleshooting wisely or making wise decisions."

"We strive to make the technicians realize that in the field, diagnosing the vehicle correctly is really important,"says technical training instructor Darrin Brewer. "If they just slap parts on it, that doesn't do anybody any good. When they come to the training center, we run them through the diagnostic procedure. That way if a vehicle comes in their stall, no matter what it is—electrical problems, driveability problems, engine control problems—they'll have the diagnostic routine to follow."

"Our technicians are more adept at electronics than they were five years ago,"adds Chambers. "We've been pushing very hard in the automotive electronics course, and it's brought a foundation of knowledge that they didn't have before."

According to Karim, there are always some experienced technicians who don't want to admit that they need to brush up on the basics. The course designers must make sure that the content satisfies the training needs of novice and expert alike.

"With all the courses in the light vehicle side, they're set up so that, whether the guy has six months' experience, or he has 40 years of experience, whether he's come out of a dealership or he's just moved into automotive, the courses are set up start to finish so that we don't leave anybody behind,"says Brewer.

As he and the other trainers have focused on the basic skills, they've realized that USPS technicians were sometimes missing some basic tools.

"We have had guys come through here, and they want to know where the test light is,"Chambers says. "They don't how to use a voltmeter."

"We call that 'Old School,' says Brewer. "We have to break that right up front."

Trouble is, when Karim started to investigate, she found that many technicians at USPS vehicle maintenance facilities across the country weren't using multimeters consistently.

"We were teaching people how to use meters and teaching them troubleshooting skills, and when they got home they didn't always have access to a meter,"she says. "We now purchase meters in bulk and actually give every student that graduates from electrical a meter to take back with them. It belongs to the Postal Service, but it's theirs to use as long as they're employed with us. We're trying to put the equipment in their hands so they can build on what they've learned, and reinforce their training when they got home."

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