Why “Training” Maintenance Technicians Doesn’t Work
The growing shortage of maintenance technicians is an issue that fleet professionals like you are well aware of, as the challenge of hiring technicians who are well-versed in modern diesel engines and able to keep up with the latest industry technologies affects an increasing number of operations nationwide.
Because an end to the labor shortage is not predicted in the near future, it is important for fleet professionals to pay close attention to the ways in which their current and future technicians have been — and continue to be — educated in their trade.
Mike McDonald, member of the Lifeblood advisory board and an accomplished maintenance executive with more than 25 years of experience in the fleet maintenance sector, takes the importance of education in the fleet community very seriously. In this article, he shares his thoughts on how to effectively prepare maintenance technicians for the upkeep of heavy-duty fleets.
Learning, education, understanding… what is it that separates these things from training? Too often maintenance supervisors say, “He was trained on the procedure, I don’t know why he didn’t follow the process” or “Why did he think he could take a shortcut?” This is why training, as the way it is frequently implemented in our field, doesn’t always work.
Employees need to be educated and to understand the why behind the larger process and behind each step. If they are prepared with this greater understanding, when they are in the trenches they are less likely to skip a critical step, such as one they didn’t completely understand during training and therefore didn’t see as a necessary part of the maintenance process. For example, consider the technician who installs new steer tires without making alignment checks and without examining the tires being removed. Those checks may make him aware of critical issues with the alignment or suspension. Another example is the technician who replaces a fan shroud without looking at the bad motor mounts, which allowed the engine fan to damage it in the first place. Both of these instances are examples of employees who have been trained, not educated. To their defense, the person assigned to train them may have known the why behind the processes, but may not have been instructed on how to be an educator.
So where have all the educators gone? I would suggest that we didn’t recognize them for their skills as educators and instead placed the burden to train on the technicians who may be the fastest — the ones who may not be strong communicators, but who are always able to “Git-er-dun.” Now driven by the mantra that “anyone who is trained can do it,” we have shops full of PPC’s (Professional Parts Changers), not qualified diagnostic experts. We have exchanged skilled technicians for PPC’s with a checklist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate of checklists, but only to remind a great technician to check what he already knows how to do, not to get a PPC to look at something he really doesn’t understand at all.
So where does this leave us? Stop and evaluate how you educate your staff — are you training or educating? When you complete your teaching, do your technicians understand how and why the component works, or just that it does or doesn’t work? Do you have a fleet trainer or fleet educator who cares about their diagnostic skill building and knows how to communicate with the technicians by truly engaging them in the educational process? The best educators, the best bosses, the best team members see themselves as mentors, building into the lives of others to grow the team.
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