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Adapting the automotive education model to fit today's needs

Monday, July 30, 2018 - 06:00
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Earlier this spring, I attended the annual ASE Training Managers Council (ATMC) conference in Atlanta. This is where a group of automotive training leaders from both the OEM and aftermarket meet to share best practices in automotive education as well as listen to enticing presentations that pull us out of our comfort zone. This year, one of the presentations solidified my views on what every technician needs to learn and know. The presenter, a principal at Electude named Koen Berends, shared his vision on how diagnostics and automotive education need to transition from a traditional outcome-based model to a competency-based model. This is a large topic and something worthy of your consideration and attention.

The challenges facing the service bay are changing at an ever-increasing rate, yet our education model has not changed in years. Sure, we’ve attempted to support education, and have used traditional methods to do so, but none have kept pace with technology. I use the example of our current education model of a two-year vocational program as a way to prepare young technicians entering the industry by exposing them to the technologies of the time over said two-year period. The outcome was typically a young technician entering the workplace and becoming a productive employee that provides value to the shop owner. In other words, we invested two years in a young technician so they could work on 1970’s technology. It worked…for a while.

Fast-forward to today and we see the most complex data networks on the planet come into our shops, rolling on four tires that carry over 100 million lines of code in order to operate. Yet, we still only invest the same two years in our young technicians and expect the outcome to be the same. I think that is insane! So, what’s the answer? A four-year program? While that would be a good start, it is not the complete answer. Using our current outcome-based model of education, it could possibly take eight or more years to achieve the levels of post-vocational competency that we once had. I believe the answer is to modernize education by focusing on competency and the mastery of skills rather than basing our education on outcomes.

Traditional or outcome-based learning puts all students through the same program for a fixed period of time, no matter if they learn or can apply the knowledge or skills. A competency-based program is where students work on a concept and are supported until they learn and can apply it in context with their career. Once mastered, they move to the next step.  Traditional education focuses on tasks or skills on systems students are studying, while competency programs focus on core skills, not the specifics of the system. For example, in current education programs a student might learn to test and diagnose a particular Ford system that contains certain core technologies, followed by learning to test and diagnose a Toyota system that contains some of the same technologies. The student has now learned the Ford way and the Toyota way, but when faced with an Audi, how do they react? In most cases they’ll say they need Audi training. In a competency-based model, the student learns how to test and diagnose the technology no matter the badge on the fender. As Koen so brilliantly put it, “Specific system knowledge cannot be a learning objective. Being able to follow diagnostic procedures is the learning objective.”

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