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Training in the shop is challenging

Monday, November 23, 2015 - 09:00
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We all like to play Nostradamus from time to time and try to predict what the future of our business looks like.

In the roles I get to play as chairman of ASA, a trustee for NATEF, board member of NASTF, teacher, and most importantly in working in our repair shop, planning the next steps are my favorite part of the job. I am one of those weird people who embrace change for the most part. I like to make systems better, but I am not a fan of fixing something until it is broken or about to break.

Without sounding like an alarmist I have to say that it’s already broken. About 60 nights a year I get to teach technicians. I love this job and the guys that I am teaching.

As an industry we have expressed concern that a large number of our students have gray hair but I don’t see that as the most immediate concern. For those of you who do have the hair color that comes with experience, think about the way you learned. Think about what you learned and how it happened.

For the most part we learned through a combination of outlets. Some may have had some vocational school, we attended technical training and we read books when we had simply fired every silver bullet we had. Our most valuable asset however was the old guy who taught us the practical things that you just can’t get from school. Herein lies my concern.

The old guys are not in a position to be teachers in the shop because vehicle technology exposes many of the things we learned incomplete or even inaccurate. Take for example how electricity is used in modern vehicles.

There was a time when you could be considered an electrical expert when you could diagnose continuity in wires, circuits, and switches and could diagnose a relay by swapping one with another “known good one.”  You might laugh at this but the truth is many of our guys are still only a step away from that skill set. A large percentage cannot use a lab scope at all, they do not know how to do a voltage drop test properly and they do not understand fully the relationship between voltage and amperage. If you think I am wrong come sit in one of my classes when I ask, “If the voltage on a circuit is high what does it mean?”

OK, so if our journeyman have this problem who is teaching the kids how to do this? Vocational schools you say, and I would agree that it is taught, but if it is not being used properly in the shop why and how would these kids ever become experts?

The nervous system of the automobile has become the single largest component with the most parts, yet we have techs who only see through the keyhole to the room where diagnostic expertise lies.

Yes, I recognize there are many very good technicians who have this nailed but it is not the norm and it certainly is not in enough quantity to keep up with the repairs or needs of the vehicles in the fleet, and certainly not the vehicles that are coming soon to a shop near you.

You want the shop of the future? Create an environment where it is acceptable and expected for a tech to say, “I don’t know how to do that.” The next most important step is to get that need filled. There are no silver bullets here.

The way most of us learn it takes several different sources of knowledge to create a true understanding of abstract concepts like electrical work. It takes several drinks from the fire hose to really put it all together.

Look very closely at how your folks are solving problems now. Is it effective? Are they right almost every time – we are human after all.  If the answer is not the one you were hoping for, and I will bet you it is not, it’s time to talk with your folks and let them know that there is no indignity in going back and filling gaps in our learning or attempting to cement concepts into everyday skills to make us better.

For years training developers have recognized the problem and we play games with course titles to try to attract students who desperately need and could actually get this stuff. We can’t call it “basic electricity” because nobody will show up. We have to call it something like “practical electrical testing” and even then the turn out for the highest volume part of our diagnostic work is abysmal.

I leave you with one question for your technical staff: Explain to me how a transistor works? Don’t know? There are hundreds, probably thousands on cars and they are made up of a series of the most basic electrical components we deal with. This is our future my friends. We cannot afford to ignore it. Like I tell my students, “Don’t fear electricity, it has laws it cannot break.”

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