Article

Investing in Technician Training

August 2013, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Rolf Lockwood and Deborah Lockridge

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At Inland Truck Parts' new facility, techs get hands-on training.
At Inland Truck Parts' new facility, techs get hands-on training.

Really, it's a question of looking at who you're going to be training and working backward. Talk to your technicians. Find out where they feel they're falling short. Many managers do the opposite, looking to see what training is available and blindly assuming it will fit. Start with conceiving the result you want, and only then go shopping.

Inland Truck Parts relies on suppliers for only about 20% of its technician training, Scheer said. The rest it handles itself, with two full-time technical trainers.

At Inland Truck Parts, about 40 classes are being offered this year on topics such as electronics, air conditioning and the newest engine technology and diagnostics. Each technician and his or her supervisor determine what classes to take.

"The single most effective way to train technicians is to understand their needs and design training that meets those needs," said Jeff Moss, learning technology manager at Mack North American Institute (the training arm of Mack Trucks).

Everyone has time and budget constraints these days, so your company's capacity to create a useful training program has to be realistic. Can you afford to send people off-site for a day or two at a time? How many people are you going to be training? Are they spread out geographically or all in one place? If you're looking to buy CD/DVD-based programs, do you buy off-the-shelf material or can you afford to have it custom-designed? Are your techs disciplined enough to handle self-managed online training without a live instructor?

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The questions are endless, really, and choosing the means of training delivery will be as important as decisions on content.


Delivery options

It's not feasible for many shops to send their people away for a few days to some distant classroom. Even finding time at home base can be tough. Hands-on classes are being supplemented, and in some cases replaced, by Web-based options. For some things, however, it's hard to beat hands-on.

Traditional training, with a teacher at the front of a classroom, a video being played or slides being shown, is essentially a one-way process without much interaction. There's very often no test at the end, no measurement of a trainee's comprehension. According to the only research we could find, the retention rate using this method is just 20 to 25%.

Hands-on interactive workshops are much more effective. Instructor-led, and popular with technicians themselves, they have the advantage of mixing written materials, video demonstration, and participation in tasks such as teardown/rebuild and fault diagnosis, usually with real trucks and components.

Everyone we interviewed for this story agreed that it's the best approach, and retention can be above 80%. That is, if you can gather technicians together in one place, either in your own shop or by sending them to off-site sessions that are often held at local colleges, trade schools and sometimes hotel meeting rooms.


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