Inland Truck Parts is an independent parts and service operation, but it says the quality of its technicians rival that of OE dealers. Its latest commitment to that is a new 15,000-square-foot training facility in Olathe, Kan., a Kansas City suburb.
The facility houses everything from traditional classrooms to 12 remanufacturing stations (six for manual transmissions and six for Allison automatics). The layout mimics actual shop environments in Inland's 27 locations.
A pair of medium-duty trucks and a late-model Class 8 tractor were also purchased to use in training on everything from preventive maintenance and tune-ups to electronic diagnostics and troubleshooting. The Class 8 rig includes a sleeper, which can be particularly challenging when it comes to air conditioning work.
"It's just like it is out in the store," says Inland President and CEO Dave Scheer, "so the student gets a full hands-on experience and then can take that knowledge and transfer it right to his main job. We even have two drive-in service bays to simulate the real work experience."
While Inland already employed two dedicated full-time trainers, they previously have conducted training inside the stores, which can disrupt business as well as distract students. The separate training facility provides an environment that promotes uninterrupted attention for better results.
Hands-on technician training is done in small groups – generally no more than six – so every attendee gets ample opportunity to participate.
"We have full capabilities to train technicians hands-on versus 'let's watch everyone else work on it while we stand around,'" Scheer says. "As we remanufacture components they can touch it and feel it and do it."
Classes span no more than two or three days.
"If you go too long, you have a stamina issue that can affect the ability to absorb information," Scheer explains.
With classroom space for up to 100 students, the Olathe training center also offers classes in "soft skills" such as communication and conflict resolution.
The curriculum at the training center is based on feedback from an Inland training advisory council made up of store, service and shop managers. For instance, some of the 2013 classes include ones on Allison transmissions, Eaton automated transmission electronics, aluminum drivelines, failure analysis, mobile air conditioning and intermediate electronics.
Once a list of topics is established, the course outline is posted on the company's Intranet. Employees then consult with their supervisors and sign up for classes according to individual interests and needs.
Inland relies on suppliers for only about 20% of its technician training, a fact that Inland believes gives it a competitive advantage against shops who rely heavily on outside sources.
For a photo gallery of Inland's new training facility, click here.