From The CEO - April - 2018

Training Is Training… or Is IT?

Finding people who can rebuild transmissions has been difficult for a number of years. But this is something you may not be aware of until your rebuilder quits or retires. Suddenly, finding a rebuilder becomes the most pressing matter you’ve ever faced. It’s a big problem; one that ATRA is fully aware of. The question is, how do you address it?

I saw a debate on this subject on ATRA’s What’s Working forum and it came down to two, generally accepted methods for training. One is that you teach someone the basics: transmission theory and operation, and generally accepted rebuild practices. It could be in-shop training or from a school. Let’s call this the principles-and-theory approach.

They may go through two years of training before they’re ready to go in the field and earn a living. But talk to any shop owner who’s hired someone through these programs and you’ll probably hear, “The kids coming from these schools don’t know anything and can’t do the job. I wouldn’t hire from there again.”

The other approach involves setting up a training center to teach a handful of late-model transmissions. Sounds good, but what’s popular in one region may barely be applicable in another.

Then there’s the issue of quantity: Back in the ’70s, there were maybe a dozen common units, and about half of them were the bulk of our work. It was easy to know what to teach; a young person could learn something and use it right away.

Today? We see hundreds of transmissions, each with tiny but significant variations. And, even if today’s young people could learn to diagnose and repair all of them, by the time they did, those transmissions would be replaced with newer, more complex units.

What we need are ways to teach young people to learn the way they’re comfortable, and teach things they can use now. Theory still has its place, but within the confines of practical applications.

You’ll find debates over these two approaches, but what’s really being debated are methods you went through 40 years ago. Trying to apply either of these programs to a millennial doesn’t work. What I think we need is a completely different approach, settle on it, and then apply it.

Today’s young people learn differently. They aren’t interested in spending years learning a craft or even sitting in a seminar all day learning something they might use months later. They don’t need to. They can find how to do just about anything over the internet, whether it’s installing a ceiling fan, replacing a water heater, or baking an apple pie.

To them, everything is a series of steps they can learn when they need it. It’s the complete opposite of how baby boomers learned. It’s a paradigm shift and, once we accept that, I think we can use it to our advantage.

Not convinced? Suppose you wanted to cook meatloaf or lasagna, something you’d never done before. You’d probably go to the internet, find a recipe with at least 4-stars, and then take the instructions to the kitchen and follow the steps. With some simple skills, like how to use a knife, an electric mixer, and an oven, you’d wind up with a decent meal.

This is the way millennials learn and find it normal. What’s abnormal to them is learning a bunch of stuff they may not use for years.

So what if we used the lasagna approach and applied it to transmission rebuilding? What if we had a comprehensive set of procedures someone could follow, and the result was a transmission that worked?

The bottom line is you want someone who can rebuild transmissions and fix cars without breaking them. So you have some options:

Send someone through a two-year program to learn principles of operation and rebuilding techniques, and then hope they can use that to rebuild something they’ve never seen. Or maybe they’ll teach them to rebuild a handful of “popular” units, only to discover they’re not so popular in your shop.

On the other hand, what if you could find techs who could follow step-by-step procedures on whatever’s in front of them? It’s the way today’s generation learns, so what if we work with that, instead of trying to teach them transmission rebuilding the way we learned, almost half a century ago?

We have options, but I think a great starting point is to teach people the way they learn best, rather than the way we want them to learn. If you’re thinking “rebuild books,” think again… think “smart phone.” Let that sink in for a moment and see if you find the potential as exciting as I do.