Today’s trucks and automobiles have hundreds of programmable features that can be used to customize these vehicles for a fleet, and today’s technicians need to understand how to program these parameters as well as how to utilize the many diagnostic modes in modern vehicles. Since technological change is one of the few constants in our industry, such demands make ongoing training critical to keep technicians efficient.
Darry Stuart, president and CEO of DWS Fleet Management Services (www.darrystuart.com), echoed such sentiments. “Ongoing training for technicians is critical,” he said. “The advent of electronics has made the truck a very sophisticated machine. While it incorporates sophisticated control systems, it contains even more sophisticated diagnostic systems, which have taken a good portion of the guesswork out of troubleshooting. As a result, fleet technicians need regular training to keep up with these changes.”
Most employees – and certainly those with a desire to succeed – seek as much training as possible so they can better perform their jobs, qualify for monetary rewards and elevate their positions. And knowledgeable fleet professionals understand that staff training will help their companies gain operational efficiencies. On the other hand, it’s important to understand that you may have someone who is satisfied with what he or she is doing and really doesn’t want to progress. You may have to find a place for such a person if you want to keep him or her on your staff.
When fleets need to make additions to their shop staff, most fleet professionals prefer to hire technicians with some practical experience, but all too often such personnel are not available. While trade schools are a source of young people who have been exposed to some of the basics, vocational school graduates generally still need a good amount of support before they’re ready to handle assignments on their own.
New hires, without a few years of practical experience, are usually assigned tasks such as cleaning parts, fueling and lubricating vehicles, and driving vehicles into and out of the shop. Beginners are then promoted as they gain knowledge and experience and as vacancies become available. These workers advance to increasingly difficult jobs as they prove their ability and competence. During this time they are often assigned to work under a more senior technician on engines and other systems such as brakes, transmissions and electrical systems.
Sometimes, however, fleet managers are faced with a lack of ample training time for new hires, or simply do not set aside the appropriate amount of time. “The most important activity in any shop is preventive maintenance,” Stuart said, “but it seems very difficult for a fleet manager to take a new technician, sit him down in the break room and let him review the fleet’s PM procedures, which, of course, should be available for review. A new hire, even one with experience, should have two or three hours every day for at least a week to go through established procedures. Too often, a new technician is put to work immediately.”
Determine Training Needs
Stuart suggests you practice management by walking around the shop floor. If you establish an atmosphere of open communication, technicians won’t hesitate to tell you their problems and potential training needs as you wander by. In your wanderings, you can also check scrapped components to see if they really need to be replaced.
Vehicle OEMs and major component manufacturers can supply you with standard repair times for many of their products. Compare these times with those needed in your shop for particular jobs and you might find that you need an evening in the break room with pizza and vendor training for your staff. If you require staff members to attend these types of sessions, be sure they are on the clock.
Our industry is fortunate to have suppliers who consider aftermarket training as part of their cost of doing business. Most have personnel in the field who can conduct training at fleet locations to ensure their products continue to perform satisfactorily, but it’s up to you to make sure that what’s being presented is in line with your policies. Remember, vendors want to sell parts; fleets want to avoid buying parts unnecessarily.
What’s the best training for shop technicians? “Some classroom training is fine, but training by an older mentor is best,” Stuart said. “Too often, though, a mentor simply shows the trainee how to do something, and the young tech never gets a chance to put his hands on the work. The mentor should do some awareness training, then let the young man do the work using the five-minute rule. If you can’t figure what’s wrong or need help after five minutes, ask the question.”
Whether it’s to familiarize technicians with new technology or to reduce the purchases of high-cost maintenance items, ongoing training is a necessity. You’re going to part with some money to get that training, but if you’ve done your homework and scheduled the proper training, the money will likely come back to you in improved efficiency, making it an investment – not an expense.
About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.