Where Can We Go for Technical Training?Posted 8/11/2005
By Brian Manley
I recently spent several days in Kansas City, Mo., at the 2005 National SkillsUSA Championships. Students from all over the country came to compete in their skill areas. Of course, I spent most of my time at the automotive technology contest.
What did the 51 high school and college students competing need to know to succeed and win the contest? A look at one of the 14 stations set up for the skills competition outlined the following tasks:
The contest got me thinking. The type and quality of training students receive would determine who would win the skills competition. With this in mind, I started thinking about how we best learn technical data as technicians. And just like these students, we should always evaluate our tasks to determine how best we can learn the skills by which to accomplish them.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with a veteran technician at a local dealership regarding technical training. His conundrum is the same one that all independent techs share: Where do you go to get quality training, and what type of training do you need?
Although we were discussing this in the middle of a Subaru/ Hyundai/Kia dealership, the training from those makes was not going to help my friend. He is a used car vehicle technician for the dealer, and new model training on a Sephia or Sonata was not going to be the type of training he needed. Those makes do have excellent training on new models, as well as great classes on other topics. But where would my friend, a man in his 40s with more than two decades of experience, garner new diagnostic weapons and learn how to use them?
Begin by asking yourself the following questions of training: who, what, when, where, why, how and how often?
How often? As I write this, I am currently reviewing a Web site, www.melioronline.com. The site was made available to automotive instructors to help us comply with our mandatory 20-hour-per-year guidelines that are set down by the National Automotive Technician Education Foundation (NATEF). I often attend more training, but for me, this requirement takes care of my "How often should I attend training?" question.
How? Let me ask you a critical question: How do you best learn information? I begin each school year by giving my students a learning styles assessment test that tells me which of my students learn best by reading text (visual learning), listening to lecture (auditory learning) or using their hands (tactile learning). Every year, an overwhelming majority tests that they learn best by seeing and touching, which is not a surprise. A few are purely auditory.
Why? How does this assessment help me as an instructor? I can remind students why I deliver information the way I do. Based on the information that I collect, I have roughly 40 percent classroom lecture and demonstration, 40 percent lab-based worksheets and 20 percent self-paced reading by students. This method of delivery works for most of my students. I can then modify the process for students with differing styles.
My students learn through online sources (ALLDATA, Mitchell On-Demand, AYES.org); with video and DVD presentations; from direct lecture and demonstration; and by performing tasks on the bench and in the lab environment. However, many students struggle when they're required to access technical information on their own, or when they're required to build a troubleshooting process from scratch.
You may be wondering how I like online learning. I have completed several basic courses - including "Electrical Circuits and Meters I, II and III" - and I enjoy the graphics and the interactive aspect of the Web-based course, including the ability to use the virtual meter by plugging in the leads, turning the dial and calculating answers. This differs from the hands-on, General Motors Corp. S.E.T. training boards I use for my students in one important way - I can't destroy the virtual power supply by hooking up the virtual circuit incorrectly!
In a recent interview, Sue Christopherson, a former manager of training for GM, gave me her assessment of online training today. She describes much of the Web-based sites as "text books that have been put on a computer," and challenges the industry to create the next generation of online training. She also is quick to remind me that technicians are tactile learners; they need to do it, touch it and feel it. I agree completely. She does say, however, that a tech with good fundamental skills can learn much online, as long as they "get" the information by reading.
Can these online sites provide a means by which to learn new processes and procedures? Yes. For example, the training company I'm currently using, Melior, an ASA member benefit provider, offers a course on the newest scan tool I own, Snap-on's MODIS. I have taken the course, and I have learned many new features about the scan tool that I've been using for months now. Similar to the electrical circuit courses, they have a nice interactive environment that mimics closely actual tools and testing.
What? My next suggestion for any tech is to accurately evaluate his or her skill set to determine what courses, or series of courses, are appropriate. We all must maximize our time and money when we make a training decision.
One assessment tool that is available is called eTech, from the Council of Advanced Automotive Trainers (CAAT) at www.caat.org. This link is available on the ASA Web site. eTech allows technicians to go online, complete the questionnaire and take an assessment test. After the technician completes the assessment, results are evaluated online and a complete profile of technician skill is returned.
I signed up for this tool and completed the Core Service Task Assessment test. There is also a separate driveability and emissions test. My 90-question test included basic theory and testing for A/C systems, brake systems, steering and suspension, alignment, and charging and starting systems. The test seemed ASE-like and assessed basic skills, such as Ohm's Law, refrigeration principles and Pascal's Law. More complex questions involved diagnosing brake pull, alignment angles and charging system design. This test appears to be an accurate assessment of a tech's basic skills, and some employers use it to evaluate potential new hires. Try it for yourself. The eTech tool is free. (Visit www.asashop.org and click on "Related Links.")
I am also aware that Carquest's Technical Institute (www.ctitraining.org) has a career development tool designed to pinpoint a tech's area of training need.
Who? For veteran technicians who have run the gamut of "basic" courses, like my friend at the dealership, you will need to focus on well-seasoned trainers who have experience in your area of need. This is the "who" component of your own training program.
Once you know what you need to know, then you can move on to who will deliver the training. For example, when centralized enhanced emissions testing was mandated here in Colorado, many of us needed to take courses to effectively evaluate and repair the impending failures - and there were many. We were fortunate to have an exceptional trainer in Chris Chesney, and after attending his interactive training, we all became better diagnosticians.
Where? My recommendation is to locate and keep in touch with your own local training gurus. Find out what gets them excited in our changing world of technology. Here's a short list of many of the sites I visit to keep my finger on the pulse of emerging training opportunities:
A realistic barometer of what training is "hot" right now for you master technicians is to look at Jim Linder's courses for his weeklong Guru School. The list is:
Linder will offer "Think Outside the Repair Manual" at CARS. Visit www.CARSonline.org for details.
It is one of my goals to attend Guru School in the near future. Jim and his crew have their fingers on the pulse of emerging technologies, and know how best to teach the need-to-know skills that can keep us diagnostically razor-sharp.
Many other "gurus" exist out there. Find ones in your area or take some time and travel to where they train. You will become a better technician.
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