Teach techs how they learn

by James Menzies

ATLANTA, Ga. — Technician training should be done in a variety of ways, but nothing beats hands-on experience.

“Mechanics have a different learning style, and you need to address that learning style to get mechanics involved,” Koen Berends, chief development officer with technician training simulation provider Electude said during a panel on technician training at the Spring meetings of the Technology & Maintenance Council March 6. “It’s by doing, not by listening or watching. It’s by making mistakes.”

Brad Aller, regional manager of fleet sales with Bendix, urged fleet maintenance managers in attendance to call on their vendors to help with training.

“It’s the best way to get your technicians up to speed today,” he said of the factory schools put on by various industry suppliers.

Online schools – like Bendix’s On-Line Brake School – are also a good starting point, and should be completed before a technician is sent to a factory school.

“Many vendors, such as us, are now requiring the technicians to go out and complete certified online training classes before they can attend a factory school,” he explained. “The reason is, you have technicians in the class that have 25 years of experience and one that has six months of experience. If you can take that person that has five to six months of experience up to a good basic knowledge, then you can move faster through a class.”

This also reduces the risk of more seasoned technicians losing interest in the class because they can’t move at their own pace.

“Online training is important,” Aller said. “It’s a way to take a newer technician and get them up to speed.”

Like Berends, Aller is a fan of hands-on training for technicians.

“Most technicians will tell you they can look at a book all day long, but until they accomplish the task they’re not sure they understand it,” he said. “Take advantage of it. Get them out there. Get a vehicle in the shop and get the vendor to come in. The classroom is fine, but you’ve got to get them out there on the vehicle and make them complete the task on the vehicle.”

George Arrants, ASE Education Foundation manager for medium-heavy trucks, stressed that industry and education providers must work together to ensure new technicians are being properly trained before hitting the workforce.

“The way they learned how to do something and the way you do it in your facility may be two different ways,” Arrants said. “It’s not because they didn’t know how to do it, it was because they were trained a certain way how to do it, and your organization has a different philosophy on how to approach that task or skill, and no one brought them in to teach them your methodology and how to approach those things. Maybe you and that entry-level technician parted ways and we scared someone away from the industry who was valuable.”

Berends said the Electude training simulators his company developed allow technicians to learn by doing, but in a simulated environment. He demonstrated the simulator to technicians attending the study group. He said technicians become frustrated with traditional teaching methods because they don’t learn the same way as doctors or lawyers.

“Technicians are intelligent people. They need to be, because the technique itself becomes more complex and abstract over time,” he said. “But the technician is frustrated because the way we learn is different than the way people learn a language, or to become a doctor or lawyer. We have a different learning style, and if we don’t address our educational content and make it fit this learning style, we’re going to lose people.”

Asked which areas tend to pose the biggest learning challenges for technicians, Arrants cited electrical systems.

“To be completely honest, most people do not understand basic electrical circuits or how to do diagnostic procedures,” he said. “We are still using two positions on our multimeter. All those other positions are on that meter for a reason, if we go for just volts and continuity we are missing something in the process. Do we really utilize the tool we are putting in our hands every day? Clearly we don’t, because someone hasn’t taught us how to use all the other selections on the dial.”

Aller said the same can be said of air systems.

“Technicians don’t have air gauges and can’t figure out how air gets from Point A, to B, to C, so they start replacing parts,” he said. “For us, we use air boards and we have gauges and when we go out and do hands-on training we encourage technicians to put gauges into the circuit so when you step on the brake pedal you know how much brake pressure is going to the relay valve.”

Each of the panelists urged attendees to provide their technicians with sufficient training time and opportunities. And Aller suggested regularly testing technicians’ skills to ensure they have retained what they learned in the past.

“Technicians have to be certified to adjust brakes and it’s up to the fleet to certify their technicians,” he said. “The question I ask is, do you ever go back and have them re-do it in front of you? Are they up to speed on changes? We get them certified so they can go out and adjust brakes, but do we ever go back and see how they’re doing?”

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