You, me, and Tim the Tool Man

Last month on this page, we talked about the challenges America faces in getting qualified technicians. This month we take a look at a few people and organizations who are doing something about it.

The statement “You can't get good people” can mean either that you can get people (but they aren't qualified for the job) or that you can't get anyone interested in working for your company. But a lot of people are working to improve both — upgrading the skills of their employees and improving the image of the industry.

W&B Service Company is able to get people and has some new ideas for training them. We went up to visit them a few months ago to tour the company's new shop (see Page 26). While there, we learned about a new online training program that the company recently introduced. When a company operates 17 shops across three states and employs more than 200 technicians, consistent training such as what its online system offers is essential.

The online course covers company policies and procedures, business ethics, and an array of general shop safety topics. Much of the course — particularly the information on shop safety — was developed by W&B's insurance company, and the course resides on the insurance company's server. Every technician at W&B has now completed the online course, and it is a requirement for every new hire.

One other nice thing about the course was its price.

“There are a lot of companies that will charge you a lot of money for something like this, but it did not cost us anything,” says Tracey Maynor, president.

But there is more to like than its cost. Online training, Maynor says, offers a quality program presented consistently across all 17 of the locations. Management does not have to be concerned that something will be left out of the presentation or that subjects will be taught differently if 17 shop foreman conducting the training at for their own location.

Training is a key issue for most companies. If one of those companies is yours, consider attending NTEA's special workshop on this topic, part of the educational program at the upcoming Work Truck Show. For a full list of education sessions, see our Work Truck Preview section elsewhere in this issue of Trailer/Body Builders.

Okay, training is important, but what if people are not even interested in my company? Worse yet, why aren't they interested in my industry? Consider these statistics from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA):

  • 61% of teenagers have never seen the inside of a manufacturing plant.

  • While 58% high school students have taken a home economics class, only 28% have taken a shop class or one on industrial arts.

  • Only one teenager in four spends more than an hour a week on a hobby or craft that involves working with his hands. America, once a hands-on nation of do-it-yourselfers, has gotten away from that. Household devices we own are more difficult to repair, Tinker Toys have lost out to the mesmerizing allure of electronic “virtual” reality.

Yet there also is a “virtual” aspect of today's computer-controlled trucks and manufacturing plants that offers real-life applications for these skills and interests. But kids must be able to see the connection.

FMA is working hard to make that happen, establishing a foundation to do just that. The association's Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs foundation offers grants to trade schools and community colleges to conduct summer camps for boys and girls as young as 12 to nurture interest in engineering and manufacturing. In mid January, the foundation announced that it will be giving grants to 10 community colleges across the U S for conducting camps this year. For details, contact www.NutsAndBoltsFoundation.org.

“We're making an investment in the manufacturing workforce,” says Edward Youdell, president of FMA and the Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs foundation. “We need to increase the pool of available, highly skilled workers to address the skilled labor crisis as Baby Boomers retire. These camps provide youth with the exposure to vocational and technical trades that no longer exist in most public education systems.”

We want kids to learn to build things, to fix things, and to challenge themselves. These are attributes that manufacturers, dealers, and distributors want to develop. Doing so will take time, money, and effort. Old habits and thought patterns are hard to break, and we need to lead the way. Of course, you might want to keep that in mind the next time something simple breaks at your house and your immediate response is to call the repairman.

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