Technicians play a vital role in keeping fleets running their best. What keeps technicians performing their best? A commitment to their ongoing training and safety – two topics that are frequently intertwined.
The more up-to-date technicians are on how to properly service trucks, the safer their working environment will be. And, of course, the trucks will operate safely, too, making it a win-win-win for technicians, fleets, and drivers. What should fleets know about these important topics? Work Truck has the answers to the most frequently asked questions.
1. What are the critical components of a technician training and safety program?
Leanne Fitzpatrick, strategic programs manager for Volvo Trucks Academy, explained that although technician training can be a complex topic, on a big picture level, it comes down to offering quality content and a commitment to safety.
“A good training program needs to provide the learner with content that is rich, interesting, relevant to their job role and easily consumed,” she said. “Safety of the learner or participant should always be the top consideration when developing content or activities. Some occupations are more hazardous than others. The risk of personal injury for service technicians is rather high. Safety has to be a primary focus of any successful service technician training program.”
In general, training can come in three formats: online training, instructor-led training, and a hybrid of the two: virtual instructor-led training.
Scott Behe, senior manager for Training Support at Mack Trucks Academy, said Mack also offers all three formats as well as a variety of job aids and performance support tools to supplement training. He says offering technicians a variety of formats yields the most effective training.
“Variety is required to accommodate different learning styles and objectives,” he said. “It is the equivalent of using the right tool to complete a task within a shop.”
On a more tactical level, Thomas Bray, senior business advisor for J.J. Keller & Associates, a consulting firm that helps organizations with safety and regulatory compliance, suggested employing a three-pronged approach:
- Initial and ongoing training on safe work practices and updates and changes to the vehicles. “Equipment has, and is, undergoing a significant increase in technology,” Bray said. “Technicians’ skill sets need to be updated to match the equipment.”
- “Lunch box” sessions. Bray said these quick, 5- to 10-minute briefings could address ongoing and anticipated challenges, including items such as safety issues, company issues, uncovering errors, new policies or procedures, and changing priorities. Although Bray refered to them as “lunch-box sessions,” these can be held at the start of the day or before or after lunch break and should be held on at least a weekly basis.
- Hosting special guests. “Inviting in subject matter or safety experts will allow you to bring expertise in from outside, which will improve your technicians and company,” Bray said.
2. What are the different training and certification programs available to technicians — and what’s the value in getting them?
While technicians can be trained in a myriad of areas based on their specific fleet and the equipment on which they work, two categories apply to most technicians: ASE certification and OEM training.
If you’re not familiar, The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is an independent third party that provides assessment, certification, and credentialing of professionals and shops in the automotive repair and service industry.
In all, ASE offers more than 54 professional level certifications.
“The certifications most applicable to the fleet market, depending on their vehicles, would be our Automobile and Medium/Heavy Truck test series,” said Trish Serratore, senior vice president of ASE. “We also offer certifications in collision repair, parts counter people, transit, and school bus.”
ASE Certification offers value for both technicians and fleets. For technicians, it provides the opportunity to showcase their technical competence, pride in their work, and commitment to their industry.
“It gives them a nationwide, industry-developed credential to indicate professionalism in their chosen career,” Serratore said. “It also allows them to identify their strengths and, importantly, areas in which additional training would improve their skill levels.”
ASE Certification helps fleets, too. For one, it helps them know they’re hiring qualified technicians, as ASE Certification requires two years of experience to be granted.
“Our surveys have also shown that ASE Certification improves tenure, fix-it-right scores, and overall productivity,” Serratore said. “ASE also provides a level of protection against potential legal issues due to the overall rigorous test development standards we maintain.”
While ASE certification tests the skill level of technicians, OEM training provides the skills needed to work on specific equipment.
“Training provided through the original equipment manufacturers is especially important when new and advanced systems or components are spec’ed,” said Keller's Bray. “Without such training, technicians will not be able to do their job effectively.”
In addition to training programs, OEMs also offer certification. For instance, the Volvo and Mack Trucks technician training programs, both of which fall under the larger umbrella of the Volvo Group, offer several different certification levels.
Service technicians who are new to the industry can achieve Professional Technician certification, usually within the first year or two of their careers. On the other end of the spectrum is Master Technician, the highest level of certification.
Behe of Mack Trucks Academy said OEM training is a worthy investment.
“I believe a properly trained service technician is more efficient and productive than a service technician who has not been adequately trained,” he said. “Training benefits the service technician by equipping them with the skills and knowledge to perform their job in a safe and efficient manner. This comes with an increased sense of pride, accomplishment, and value within the organization.”
For Fitzpatrick of Volvo Trucks Academy, the benefits of Volvo’s certification start with technicians but extend to fleets and their customers as well.
“Service technicians have a sense of pride and accomplishment when they achieve status within our training program,” Fitzpatrick said. “Professional and Master Technician status also provides a sense of confidence to our fleets and customers. They know the service technician working on their product is highly trained and highly skilled.”
Bray agreed that both technicians and fleets stand to benefit from training and certification.
“Being trained and certified by a recognized body makes the technician a more desirable employee from a career perspective,” he said. “It benefits the company in less work errors and better on-the-job knowledge, which is especially handy during troubleshooting, and it provides the company with a defense during litigation should a repair or maintenance work done by the technician be called into question. Fewer injuries, fewer errors and rework, and better morale are all results of an effective safety and training program.”
3. What impact does technician training have on safety?
Another positive outcome of having trained, certified technicians is a safer workplace, which comes with secondary monetary benefits as well.
“The key benefits are reduced risk for workplace injuries, as well as reduced cost and liability associated with a workplace injury,” said Fitzpatrick of Volvo Trucks Academy. “Some of the workplace accidents associated with the role of service technician can have permanent, lasting impacts on individuals and their families. These types of accidents can be prevented through service technician training.”
For Behe of Mack Trucks Academy, there is a direct correlation between training and safety.
“Service technician training is one of the best opportunities to improve workplace safety, if not the best. Most accidents or injuries occur due to a lack of awareness. If a service technician is not aware of safety hazards that exist in the shop environment, personal injury can occur,” he said. “Training provides an opportunity to discuss those risks, identify the specific hazards, and equip the individual with the skills and knowledge required to complete any task safely. If you are not discussing occupational safety during your training events, you are missing an opportunity!”
Specifically, Bray said training in two areas are critical for maintaining safety: tire/rim repair and brake repair.
“If either of these are not done correctly (things as simple as not knowing to use a cage when inflating the tire or not knowing when or how to cage a spring brake), the technician is at risk for a serious injury,” he said. “In both cases, if the repair is not done correctly, there is a good chance of a serious incident resulting from the failure that is likely to occur if the work is not done correctly.”
Charles Ayers, president of the Coordinating Committee For Automotive Repair (CCAR), said he’s seen safety training pay off first-hand. In a prior role, he had compliance responsibilities for about 100 corporate aftermarket repair locations. That led him to CCAR; the organization started using their online safety training to educate the shop staff at each location. The result?
“Safety incidents significantly declined, time lost on the job went down, and (an unexpected outcome) our insurance rates dropped because we had fewer claims,” he said. “In a nutshell, the time and expense put forth to train more than paid for itself in dollars saved and productivity maintained.”
4. What are the biggest hurdles fleets face when it comes to technician training and safety — and how can they overcome them?
Behe of Mack Trucks Academy said the biggest hurdle he sees is maintaining a commitment to a quality program.
“It is easy to lose sight or focus when making decisions regarding service technician training programs,” he said. “Staying focused on the desired outcome and constantly evaluating the effectiveness of all service technician training are key. Don’t be afraid to make improvements or changes based on the feedback received from service technicians.”
And of course, budget constraints are frequently a challenge. When fleets are tempted to cut training, Fitzpatrick of Volvo Trucks Academy suggested evaluating the associated risk of doing so.
“A proper and effective training program will often come at a cost, but what would it cost to not train your service technician?” she asked. “Training is the best way to invest in your employees’ professional growth and performance and is critical to the success of any company.”
Ayers of CCAR echoed Fitzpatrick’s sentiment to carefully assess the larger risks (and associated costs) compared to the cost of training.
“Ask yourself this question: Can you afford a technician safety incident? Can you afford to have that tech off the job for an undetermined length of time to recover? Can you afford the (potential) increase in workers’ comp costs? Can you afford the (potential) OSHA citations?” he asked.
Bray said time is the biggest hurdle he sees fleets face, with cost a close second.
“To commit to a safety and training program will require the company to decide, up front, that using 40 or more direct work hours per year is necessary,” he said. “The company simply needs to decide this is a long-term investment and that it is going to budget the money and spend it. In both cases, the maintenance manager will need to be able to make the case that the investment in time and money will pay off in better work, less rework, less downtime, better retention, and more.”
5. How has COVID-19 had an impact on training?
With social distancing requirements, it’s no surprise COVID-19 has forced most training to be canceled or moved online. David Milne, president of the ASE Training Managers Council (ATMC), said that, while the shift to virtual training is certainly a curve ball and not the most ideal situation, fleets are pivoting as needed.
“Most of our members were already developing and experimenting with virtual training as a cost savings or a way to reach their broad service networks, but now it is their primary focus,” he said. “However, I think all our members would agree that hands-on, instructor-led training is the most effective for service professionals. Therefore, the industry is busy trying to determine how we get back to that as a norm.”
J.J. Keller’s Bray sees the same shifts.
“Skills-based training is what is suffering. However, as in-person training has slowed, online training has become more available and attractive, especially for knowledge-based topics,” he said. “Many of the technical colleges that do technician training have moved courses to the online environment using simple online learning tools like pre-recorded video, live video, PowerPoint presentations, webcasts, programs with interactive diagrams and/or click-throughs.”
Before COVID-19, Mack and Volvo did not include Virtual Instructor-Led Training as an option. But that was the only offering for several months, as face-to-face or in-person training activities were temporarily halted during the peak months of the pandemic. Now, Volvo and Mack training programs are transitioning back to some in-person training.
“Currently, we are offering a mix of these options, as some courses still require Instructor-Led Training due to the amount of tactile learning or hands-on activities,” said Mack's Behe. “For example, it is very difficult and costly to effectively teach a service technician how to overhaul an engine in a virtual setting.”
Of course, both Mack and Volvo are keeping safety at the forefront of in-person training sessions.
“Our Instructor-Led Training events feature reduced capacity to allow for social distancing,” explained Volvo's Fitzpatrick. “We have also adopted a strict safety protocol at all of our training locations that requires temperature checks at the beginning of each training session, masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other essential PPE.”