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Technician training in the digital age

How remote training options can keep fleet personnel up to date on the latest service and maintenance practices.

Training is important to any job, including technicians servicing commercial vehicles. The safety of the truck drivers, as well as the safety of other drivers on the road around them, is at stake. What’s more, the financial wellbeing of the fleet relies heavily on technicians to ensure vehicle uptime is maximized as well as keep the latest vehicle technologies up to date.

There is a lot riding on the performance of technicians, so continuous training is crucial to maintain a fleet’s viability.

The importance of training

Whether working at a fleet, a dealership, or a third-party repair shop, a major concern for technicians is safety. They need to know the proper procedures to service and repair trucks to keep the vehicles safe while on the road.

Safety

“The main factor is safety,” says Joe Baumer, aftermarket training manager at Meritor, a supplier of commercial vehicle brakes and components. “Annually, about 30 percent of major heavy duty truck accidents are attributed to brake issues. We’re operating on our nation’s highways and trucks are having accidents just like automobiles, but when a truck accident occurs it usually results in larger consequences. I believe that training can do a lot to prevent that.”

A properly trained technician is more likely to use appropriate procedures when servicing critical vehicle systems such as brakes, and less likely to make a mistake that could be catastrophic.

Efficiency

Cost is another consideration when it comes to maintaining vehicle safety, and an efficient fleet is a cost effective one. Training can help here, too. Keeping technicians up to date on the latest repair and service processes means they can do quality work at a more rapid pace, thereby improving efficiency and uptime.

“Customers want their trucks on the road as quickly as possible,” says Charlie McKinney, manager, technical communications and training at heavy duty power management manufacturer Eaton. “Every day of downtime is potentially thousands of dollars in lost revenue, so it’s critically important for these dealerships to have trained technicians who know how to repair the product properly and quickly.”

McKinney adds that when completing warranty work, technicians need to be able to make repairs properly within the standard repair times in order for the work to remain cost effective.

Equally concerning when it comes to cost, Baumer notes that violations discovered during roadside checks can be costly to fleets both in terms of mandated repairs and downtime.

“About 2.5 million roadside inspections occur every year, and of those … about 20 percent of the vehicles are taken out of service for violations,” Baumer says. “When you put a calculator to it, the average fleet loses $400 every time a vehicle is taken out of service.”

Technology

Part of being efficient is keeping up with rapidly advancing vehicle technologies. In order to service and repair vehicles, technicians need to be able to understand the technology they are working with.

“Due to the ever-changing products available for today’s vehicles and the technology associated with them, training is extremely important to ensure that heavy duty technicians have the most up-to-date information possible so they can complete repairs efficiently and effectively,” says Scott Donnelly, aftermarket training manager, senior quality engineer, Dana Aftermarket, a supplier of axles, driveshafts, and related components. “If technicians miss a product revision or redesign, they may be unaware that conducting the old procedure on the new product will be ineffective. This could lead to unexpected and costly issues, including increased vehicle downtime.”

Megan Vincent, marketing manager at Phillips Industries, a provider of electrical and air brake system components, uses the example of the company’s 7-way Quick-Change Plug (QCP). While the plug is designed to save time and increase the life of the connection, many technicians who are not trained on its features end up cutting the end off and replacing it with a new plug.

“They are wasting time, energy, cable length, and money,” Vincent says. “Had they been trained, they would have known all they needed was a new insert, some grease, and two minutes of time. If people participate in training on the products, they know how to use and maintain them properly.”

In addition to vehicle technologies, the tools used to repair and maintain vehicles are advancing as well, so it is important to know how to use them properly.

Purkeys, a manufacturer of vehicle electrical components and tools, offers training classes that specifically cover multimeter usage. Larry Rambeaux, sales application engineer at Purkeys, says that most technicians have insufficient training when it comes to multimeters, though they may not realize it themselves.

“Everybody assumes they know how to [use a multimeter correctly],” Rambeaux says. “I’ve done hundreds of classes … on multimeter 101, and the general consensus is, ‘I know how to do this, why do I need training?’ We test them, and they realize they don’t know how to do it. The bad thing is every service manual, technical bulletin, [et cetera] is written based on the assumption they do know how to do it.”

Staying current on vehicle and tooling technologies is imperative for technicians, so maintenance managers would do well to seek out training courses to keep their fleet running safely and efficiently.

In-person training

Many entities within the trucking industry provide technician training, including fleets, repair facilities, component manufacturers, and tool companies. While fleets and repair facilities may implement their own more general, universal training, component and tool manufacturers traditionally focus on their specific areas of expertise and can provide technicians with more in-depth knowledge.

Fleets and repair facilities may be servicing vehicles from multiple manufacturers with various specifications, so it makes sense to provide more general training options. Still, each technician likely has an area of focus.

“For new hires, depending on the service department they are placed, we have a new hire training checklist that streamlines the training for them and ensures that they are taking the right training,” says Tim Grabow, vice president at Blaine Brothers, a full service heavy duty tow and repair company based in Minnesota. “The length of time it takes to complete the training depends on the individual’s aptitude. We give them a tech test on day one, day 30, day 60, and day 90. This provides a benchmark so we can continue to improve their application and see from the results how much they are retaining over time. The follow-up on these assessments [is] very important to address in real-time sessions with those that need more time or more hands-on practice.”

Vehicle system or component manufacturers, on the other hand, tend to keep training within the realm of their expertise. Phillips’ Vincent says the company has traditionally offered in-person options such as product training, technician training, and training on the proper installation of Phillips products.

Likewise, Meritor’s Baumer confirms they have historically provided in-person training onsite at customers’ facilities, and Eaton’s McKinney says the company has offered instructor-led training courses up to four days in length for technician certification.

While most companies that provide training have traditionally done so in person with classroom and hands-on options, many have begun providing remote training options. These have become especially important since the COVID-19 pandemic restricted travel and limited person-to-person interaction.

Remote training

Getting hands-on is important for some aspects of technician training, but it’s not always necessary. Some companies have been ramping up remote training options for years now and have found it can be just as effective.

Purkeys’ Rambeaux, for example, says the company has been providing remote training for the last few years.

“One of the biggest reasons we do it is that we can [train] a lot more people at one time,” he says.

With a limited number of trainers and many clients seeking training, this option helps Purkeys reach more people faster since no travel is required.

Numerous companies confirm their respective companies have also offered some form of remote training prior to this year. This gave all of them an advantage when the COVID-19 pandemic made travel less than ideal. In many cases, remote training is now the only training available.

Other companies such as AIRman Products, a manufacturer of pneumatic solutions for the commercial transportation industry, used a more hands-on approach previously and has had to adapt. While they did have options such as remote over-the-phone support, the majority of their training exercises were conducted in person at the fleet’s location. The need for more robust remote training has prompted AIRman to develop new options.

Types of remote training

Companies have taken different approaches to remote training. Some offer video tutorials, others offer live hosted webinars, and still others provide full web-based training portals.

Video
Shane LaHousse, vice president general manager of AIRman Products, says when customers purchase an AIRman product, the documentation will now include QR codes linked to training videos. He uses the example of the company’s new Automated Landing Gear for which they have created animated instructional installation videos.

“Installing our system onto a trailer is primarily [done in] four individual steps,” LaHousse says. “That can be shown through this animation exactly how things go together. It allows the end user to rewind and go to specific sections quite easily. It is video and moving pictures, we’re not recording people installing it. It shows the system in a much more simplified manner [and] reflects the core process of installing an actuator onto a trailer.”

Webinars
Phillips’ Vincent confirms the company provides videos, hosted on YouTube as well as their website, as a form of training for technicians using their products. Additionally, Phillips also offers live webinar-type video calls, mostly via the Zoom video conference platform, in which an instructor leads a training session multiple times per week. The company has set up a new section of their website to allow technicians to schedule times to attend these training events.

“Participants have the opportunity to select their topic, date, and time,” Vincent says. “We have it set for two days a week, and we offer three sessions each day. It was essential to cover times that work for North American time zones. Depending on the time chosen, we select a product expert in the same time zone to support and facilitate that training. If the participant needs something outside of the times we have available for live training, we are open to supporting what they need and scheduling for a time they prefer. Also, if that doesn’t work, pre-recorded training is an option for them to watch at their earliest convenience.”

While Purkeys has offered webinar training for several years, this training option has recently become more important than ever. Rambeaux, who instructs training courses, recommends that each technician get hands-on with their own multimeter during the class.

“You need to make sure you know how to operate yours,” Rambeaux says. “Every [multi]meter is a little bit different … whether it’s a different generation of labels or different brands and how they use symbols. You want [to have] your [multimeter] there to say, ‘Hey, is this the right function? Is this what you’re talking about?’”

Adding a hands-on aspect to webinar training can be a good technique to reinforce the information being conveyed by the instructor.

Portal
Other companies use dedicated web portals to house more complete training solutions. The Dana Training Academy, for example, features various product-focused modules. Training modules are typically web-based courses that feature text, video, and images, sometimes followed by a test or quiz to see how much information the technician has retained.

“The Dana Training Academy website allows us to roll out new training, communicate product bulletins and other important information, and let shop owners and fleet managers track their employees’ progress as they learn Dana-specific information,” Donnelly says.

Portals such as this give technicians a sort of one-stop-shop for all their training needs, at least when it comes to the topic being addressed. Still, Dana has upped their training to provide more webinars while in-person training is not available.

“The online training offered by Dana Aftermarket uses our dedicated Learning Management System,” Donnelly says. “Our initial product modules cover Victor Reinz gaskets and commercial drive axle products. With the latest restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have conducted many webinars to support our customers and their technicians. We also feature multiple informational and how-to videos online for our various product lines.”

Eaton is another company offering a web-based training portal. McKinney says the online training modules provide “level one” training, meaning that once the technician completed the course he or she would be able to perform “basically any service procedure for components on the outside of the transmission.”

McKinney says that for more complex service procedures, Eaton continues to offer in-person training, but limits face-to-face interaction by broadcasting it live. The Eaton instructor will train two technicians at a local dealership or shop, having them take turns tearing down and rebuilding a transmission. This will be live streamed to other shops with two technicians at each so that they can also do the hands-on work of tearing down and rebuilding transmissions themselves.

This process allows the instructors to still oversee, provide guidance, and answer questions while each technician takes a turn completing the transmission teardown, McKinney advises.

“That way, we’re still making sure that all of those technicians are touching every single part in a safe manner,” he says.

Meritor’s Bullpen training portal works much the same, offering training modules and videos, as well as interactive webinar training sessions. As part of that interactive training, technicians also have the ability to share videos with the virtual class to physically show the vehicle system or component.

“The way we have it set up, you can actually turn on the camera on your cell phone and walk out into the shop or wherever you have it and share a live picture of what you’re actually talking about,” Baumer says. ““You can point at something and say, ‘No, no, I’m talking about this,’ or ‘Can you see the way this is wearing abnormally?’ Everyone in class can see that; it’s not just the presenter or putting up the information that was prepared, you can actually ask questions interactively.”

Challenges

Remote training is a good solution, and the best option available for many fleets given the current situation, but it is not without its flaws. Lack of hands-on experience and the inability to ensure technicians are attending and paying attention to lectures are just two examples of the challenges with remote training that companies are working to overcome.

Eaton, as noted above, has created a work-around to try to get technicians hands-on with the training material, but the format may not be sustainable long-term.

“I don’t think that web-based training can supplement instructor-led forever, at least not when it comes to the heavy duty transmission market,” says Eaton’s McKinney. “The product is too complex and true certification really requires a skills check and competencies that must be evaluated in person.”

Another challenge is the fact that the instructor is not in the room with the technicians, so it becomes much easier to not pay attention. Some companies overcome this by requiring technicians to take a quiz or a test at the end to prove they attended the training course and to see what they retained from it.

“In order to successfully complete [a Bullpen training] course, you have to take a quiz at the end,” says Meritor’s Baumer. “And it’s not just a basic one, you have to pay attention. You can just start a computer program and walk away. We want to make sure that is not occurring, so you have to complete a quiz at the end.”

Baumer adds that Meritor can also provide quizzes at the end of interactive distance training courses, depending on the needs or requests of the fleet or shop being trained.

Eaton has taken this approach to ensure technicians are getting the most out of their training courses.

“We have a post test for every one of our classes,” McKinney says. “In the past it has been a written test that is handed out in class, but due to this pandemic and our strategy going into 2020, we’re migrating all of those tests into our learning management system. All of those tests will now be taken digitally and scored digitally.”

Additionally, Purkeys provides testing for technicians, who earn a certificate if they attain a certain score. But the company can also provide engagement reports to the fleet or shop showing how much each participant interacted during a webcast.

“We’ve always been able to give them feedback scores,” says Purkeys’ Rambeaux. “We’ll give a report of who signed up, when they signed up. It gives a time when they signed in and how long they were there. This is an hour-long webinar, if you’re only there for 10 minutes you don’t get trained. Then, based on mouse movements and everything else that we put in it, it will give an engagement score as well.”

While remote training may never be able to fully replace in-person courses, the challenges it brings are being met head-on with creative solutions.

Technician training is fundamental to safety, efficiency, and a fleet’s bottom line. While limited travel has rendered most in-person training opportunities unavailable right now, companies have created virtual work-arounds to allow technicians to train remotely, keeping them up to date on all the latest innovations, technologies, and procedures needed to maximize uptime and keep their fleets on the road.