What do the next generation of students need to know?
What do the next generation of technicians need to know when coming out of a tech school?
This has been a topic of discussion among many individuals for years. Being involved in education not only as a student but as an educator has made me ponder this question many times over. We as an industry seem to expect students or even just young technicians entering the field to know everything the day that they start. I know how long it took me to get proficient as a mechanical technician and I know others can still remember the time it took them as well. What I also remember is the struggle I had finding a way to learn the diagnostic side of the industry after entering the industry.
Fast forward 13 years and I now specialize in drivability and electrical diagnostics. I have had the fortune to learn from many great trainers through the years both in person and online. But one thing I can say is I never really learned the correct way to diagnose working under anyone in the roughly 20 shops I have worked for. I will leave that up to you all to figure out why that was. That brings me to the point of this post.
Should our schools be teaching the mechanical side of the trade or the diagnostic side or should we be tailoring the class to each students desire or need? I feel that when a college focus' on the mechanical side only and expects that the student learn how to diagnose in the shop we are setting him/her up for failure. I also feel that assuming every student wants to be a mechanical technician is is something that needs to be changed. Some young technicians are going to come into this industry because they want to turn wrenches and do mechanical jobs but we need to recognize that with today's youth that may not be the case.
I feel that a student does need to have an idea of how the systems work and a good mechanical understanding of the system or part. But I also feel expecting a shop to teach the diagnostic side is large undertaking for a lot of shops. A tech school or college is a great place for students to learn to make mistakes during a diagnosis and experiment with their diagnostic approach. Being taught by a shop that may not be comfortable with diagnostics leaves those students without a chance to take that career path.
What are your feelings towards this? If you were to request a student from a tech school what tasks would you ask that he/she be able to perform? Change brake pads, tires, do a relative compression test with a scope, perform voltage drop, etc? Remember as an educator we have two years in most circumstances to teach these kids from the point of not knowing the difference between a flat head and a phillips head to being able to take a job in a repair shop.
In my opinion, its electrical, electronics, networks, and software. Actually, the current generation really needs a much better foundation in these areas. For decades, I've watched the gap between what instructors and techs need to know vs. what they actually should know steadily increase. Today, the gap is exponential. Technicians need "flexible" skills (skills that can adapt to various technologies). With the advent of vehicle electrification, and now autonomous (ADAS) systems technology applications change quickly. Therefore, pattern failures will become less frequent, while critical thinking skills (in electrical, electronics, networks, and software) will become the norm. Any technician under the age of 40 really needs to consider updating their skills in the aforementioned areas. It's a pretty simple equation for success.
Thank you for the reply. I could not agree more! I believe automotive programs need to change to fill this gap. These are skills they will not learn in the bays if the shop they are working for are not educated in those areas.
I'm working closely with a company that is actually helping instructors and techs close the gap. We've build a "Boot Camp" set of courses to address some of these critical areas. I've included a link if you're are interested in reviewing the content: futuretechauto.com/swbootcamp
After completing the pilot course, it's amazing how well the technicians can learn and apply writing and coding software....and ditto for electronics devices. They did a fantastic job! Now they can build any diagnostic tools and understand (more deeply) how many of the electronic circuits are mechanized in hardware electronics and how the they are controlled with software. It was a great time and I can't wait to instruct the next class. What a blast!
That is awesome! I looked at the link. I would love to attend one of these. I will start saving my money so I can attend in the future. I will pass the info along to the schools I associate with as well. Thank you!
Would love to see you there! We need individuals like you to lead the way!!!
Thanks for posting your comments. Hope others provide their input.
Great post and discussion Tanner.
Let's say, for the sake of discussion, that there's four types of students. Two of those students will bypass traditional secondary and or post secondary automotive technical programs to enter the automotive service industry and the other two will attend and hopefully graduate the programs and enter the Automotive Service Industry. Of those two students that may or may not attend traditional automotive programs, one will have a skill set that will lend itself to a repair career and one will have a skill set that will lend itself to an analytical diagnostic and problem solving type career. No doubt, there's more variables here but bare with me for the sake of this conversation. I believe that we should have some structure in place that will allow us to teach to each student a little differently. This structure would be developed and practiced in our secondary and post secondary programs as well as our service businesses. I believe much of the curriculum will be identical because both, repair professionals and diagnostic professionals will have to have a solid understanding of how each vehicle system works but the emphasis will be different for each student.
Both students will need to go through a General Service Program so they can be shop ready on day one.
Soft skills are also a priority. The days of hiding in the back of the shop are over. We need to raise the level of professionalism. There's no way that we can get the respect we deserve and show the motoring public the value of quality service if we can't communicate.
Thanks again for the post Tanner,
Technicians learning soft skills is another great point! I'm so happy you brought this up. The day of the "knuckle dragging" mechanic is gone. We as technicians need to be able to speak to the service writers, managers and customers about what is wrong with their vehicle. I feel a technician needs to know how to be polite and courteous but also how to talk in a professional matter. When we speak with a customer whether we know it or not we are effecting the way that person views the trade. Even one bad encounter can change the way that persons views our trader and they can tell 10 others about their experience. Its guys like you Mr. Brin Kline that help point the sunshine on our industry. The way you speak with your customers and others in this industry is truly awesome!
+1 for soft skills.
Basic writing and math skills are also often severely lacking in young people looking to get into the industry, which ties into the soft skill situation.
Critical thinking was mentioned somewhere in this thread too and that, in my opinion, is one of the larger problems with many techs. Many have never learned how to learn. Logic and critical thinking is something that needs to be taught way before a person is attending a trade school. I'm not sure what can be done about it in an automotive tech classroom.
Kind of hard .. see as a diagnostic tech we also need to know how things mechanically work it opens our minds further . Also knowing everything is really hard on the mind , My opinion . Seems like we should specialize In each kind of specific job mechanically , diagnostics . Like when a car is built it’s not just one team it’s varios teams right , mechanical engineering , design , electrical engineering Etc . But is the market ready for that ? Idk it’s going good for the transmission specialty shops , the mobile diagnostics seems to be getting more of a name for it self . This is my opinion . But we just seem to have to know a little about everything but just specialize .. like a doctor , lawyers they all sometimes the best ones have a specific medicine Or law they practice . Tech school though matter what has to start with the basics . But with a fast moving industry is it hard to go from zero mechanical experience to becoming a great tech ? In my opinion yes
I couldn't agree with you more, diagnostics, electrical and electronics are super important but if we can't picture in our minds what is going on down in the guts of everything, whether an engine or electric motor (both having moving mechanical parts) then how do we know what we're actually looking at. this is a great conversation and I can't wait to see what other material is added to it.
I teach at a local technical school. This subject has been discussed to no end at our advisory board meetings. Every shop owner, parts manager, instructor, program coordinator, department head, and dean who attends has a different opinion on what should be taught. I have concluded that between the info that my students need know, and what I would like for them to know, that there is absolutely no way in the 2 yrs (or 5 semesters) they are with our program to accomplish this. I have started steering my teaching style to one that emphasizes information acquisition and application. I explain that in my other role as a shop owner/foreman it is impossible for me to know everything about every car that rolls in the bay. What I can do, and try to do is convince them to become a good reader. Be able to read fast and assimilate that knowledge therefore enabling them to test and analyze something they just read about. This is a major key to success in this industry.
I make them do presentations in front of their peers while their peers review how well the student conveyed an idea or problem. It helps the student to see how the customer will see them one day. I make them do what I wish I did from the very beginning of diagnosing cars, keep a diagnostic journal. I take them up at the end of the semester of lab and it is 65% of their final grade.
Syllabi and course requirements constantly evolve but the need to be able to read and comprehend never changes......
Well put my friend thank you! I really like the idea of having them present an idea in front of their peers, I may have to steal that idea if you don’t mind. They are lucky to have you as an instructor!
Brian I love the idea of the diagnostic journal and making speaking in front of the classroom to get them comfortable with presenting. I'm also going to steal those ideas!
We need to start by making sure the students know how to read and write. Reading comprehension is key. There is no way that a student can learn how every system on every car works. They need to be able to go to the service manual and read the description of operation. Once we know how it is supposed to work we can figure our why it doesn't work. Writing/english composition are just as important because at the end of the diagnosis you need to be able to accurately convey what you did and what you found to the service writer/vehicle owner.
Students also need a solid background in science and mathematics. They need to understand what is going on in systems.
Once the basic foundation is laid, then we can teach the nuts and bolts and the diagnostic skills.
The direction that AIST is attempting to go is the way that technical education needs to go.
"Should our schools be teaching the mechanical side of the trade or the diagnostic side or should we be tailoring the class to each students desire or need?"
It's going to be a late night ramble here so bear with me! At my local community college where I went, we did both. All 8 areas of the ASE were covered in pretty good detail. I rebuilt automatic transmissions, a lot of mechanical work, built an engine, spent a lot of time with electrical, and was lucky enough to be there when DSO's were becoming affordable and OBDII was just out for a few years. This was 20 years ago and not long ago I was going through my old school stuff and kind of embarrassed that I had learned how to do so much with a scope but had forgotten and not used all of it it until just a few years ago when I bought my own PICO.
A couple years out of tech school I went to work at a tiny independent VW shop that was really not equipped with anything really, so I wasn't applying the diagnostic skills I had learned, and I ended up forgetting all about them. Years go past and I hadn't gone to any training at all. Then a couple years ago I met a group of guys with a passion for diagnostics and I've just clung to them to learn from them and share what I can.
So to the question I quoted, yes. Yes students should have the practical theory behind everything inside a vehicle. Unfortunately it's becoming more complex and I fear schools might have to specialize where they go with it, or make it a 3 year degree, or have students choose their path (mechanical or diagnostic). I think that will be hard on the schools due to low enrollment and an aging instructor base.
The students coming out of the school currently are absolutely equipped with the knowledge to change brake pads, service A/C, do a relative compression test, and perform voltage drop. I substitute teach there now and make sure they know and practice that stuff! But what I found is that since the instructors have been out of the industry for so long, they aren't keeping up with the current diagnostic trends. I covered a battery and charging class for the driveability section and added quite a bit of my own information to the provided lecture. Battery coding and clutched alternator pulleys weren't included, and these are things that students will see out there. And that's part of the next problem. What if that student is like me and doesn't get into a well equipped shop. I know that when I go to classes now and the question about number of scan tools used beyond the Snap On staple, or if techs have a DSO available comes up, very few people raise their hands. And this is a a class a shop pays their techs to go to! Think about all the other shops that aren't going to the classes.
"A tech school or college is a great place for students to learn to make mistakes during a diagnosis and experiment with their diagnostic approach."
This is absolutely true, and when I finish my BS in Skilled and Technical Education this fall and someday land a full time instructing job, I will remind the students everyday that school is the time to practice those skills needed for the workforce. I want to light their diagnostic fire and for them to crave all the information about why it works and how it works. With the mechanical classes behind them and the driveabiliy class the last one, I would hope it gives them a chance to look at everything from multiple angles. Try to instill the critical thinking and creative thinking needed for some tests that have to be done. It's definitely going to be an interesting next few years in both education and in the field.
"But what I found is that since the instructors have been out of the industry for so long, they aren't keeping up with the current diagnostic trends. "
This is THE reason I will not teach full time. When I was in college the best teachers weren't people who "taught," they were people who were. Example my economics teacher was a terrible "teacher". He had not attended the how to make a powerful PowerPoint class, but he did own a bank. When he opened his mouth economics fell out. You couldn't help but learn. I have long felt that for a teacher to be effective they MUST be current. I believe that in a program the coordinator should be full time and the rest of the instructors should be adjunct if at all possible. When I teach lab I take cars from my shop that I have already diagnosed and let the students follow the diagnostic steps to arrive at a solution. This has proven both beneficial and fun for all involved.
Wow, you opened up a really broad topic Tanner!
What is the overall goal? If we are working to produce strong entry-level technicians, then we need the schools to focus on the service fundamentals with an emphasis on strengthening reading, reading comprehension, math, communications skills, and work ethics. As for industry-specific curriculum, it needs to be tailored to what a shop needs the entry-level person to do; how to properly lift a vehicle, safety in the shop, proper use of tools - both hand, power and diagnostic, and the ability to correctly complete entry-level job assignments like tire changes/repair, oil changes, battery testing and replacement, and so on.
The problem with that is that graduates will need to be properly mentored to grow. And as already mentioned, often the shop lacks the personnel to properly grow these techs. Even some schools lack the ability to instruct students in the technologies faced by techs in the shop today. To resolve this situation, the schools will need to step up and/or rely on the aftermarket training providers to fill in those gaps - if shop owners will adapt a culture of learning in their businesses (a topic for another time!).
Additionally, the sheer amount of knowledge a student needs to master and retain is staggering. Without the ability to continuously apply what they learn, much of what is lost before the student graduates. That's one reason I was so impressed with the apprentice model used in Australia. In this system, there is a written agreement between the shop, the student and the school. The student earns a living wage and works at the shop 4 days a week, and attends school 1 day a week. The total process takes 4 years to complete but the benefits include no student debt (the government pays the school for every successful student they graduate), the student earns a wage that increases as his/her skills increase, the student gets to practice what has been taught so the skill becomes ingrained, and at the end of the 4th year they are recognized as a certified technician - every shop knows the skills they have proven and the training they have gone through. The shop works closely with the school and is aware of the skills being taught so they can provide opportunity to the student to practice and hone those skills. It's very similar, I think, to the idea that Mr. Chesney is preaching - update our objective-based system to one that is competency-based.
I believe you and I have talked about this before, I could NOT agree with you more about the GAP that needs to be filled. A brief version of my story...….Jorge Menchu and myself were presenting a diagnostic presentation together in the fall of 1996, after the session, I remember telling Jorge that a Post secondary school had called and asked if I would take over an 8 week electrical class that the instructor just walked out on at the midway point. I turned the offer down , but offered to try and find someone for them, after many failed attempts , I agreed as long as they were still looking for an instructor. At the end of that 4 week session, I enjoyed the change from the all out mobile diagnostics (although I still went mobile after the class everyday). I was ready to leave the school and the long time Engine performance instructor became very sick and passed away very fast. I was then asked to take over the Engine Performance course until they found someone. Tanner, even in 1997, I remember driving home and thinking how much more these post secondary students should be learning then what was "REQUIRED" by NATEF. What I was told (and was the truth) is that NATEF requirements are mainly to produce an ENTRY LEVEL technician. As a former repair shop owner, If I had an applicant come in to apply for a position and I saw 18 to 24 months of trade school education, I would expect to see a higher amount of knowledge then someone that indicated they just "Played around" with cars with their friends of relatives !!!!!!!!!! When I had heard that their was a hiring for the Engine Performance position, I was ready to resume my life as a full time mobile diagnostic business. At that point, the owner of this private post-secondary school came into my classroom at the end of a day and asked if he could talk to me...…...I joked and said NO, everytime you talk to me. I'm here longer. He began to tell me that he also was a student of this 100 year old school twenty years earlier, and he though after graduation that he was ready to handle anything that was threw at him, he said if they would have given him a paper test instead of a REAL car he would have been fine, but to actually jump in a fix a vehicle he felt he just wasn't ready. I responded by saying I could see that, but everyone just needs some actual HANDS-ON experience. His response was that he had gone into some of the front office paperwork and took notice that between my 3 repair shops I had hired a lot of his school's students, he asked if they were that good !!!!!!!! I joked with him and say NO, they SUCKED, but they SUCKED less then the others...…. He then asked "What can we do about that"?????, I told him nothing, they just have to go and get some experience, He asked if I could think of a way they could get a head start here at the school. After a couple of days thinking about it, I suggested to offer the students that have finished the entire 18 months program of the 8 categories of ASE testing, the opportunity to stay or return for an additional 8 week period that was NOT under the guidelines of NATEF. He asked what would I do in that 8 week period, I told him that I would hit them with actual REAL WORLD automotive problems. I would either put up on the board the actual driveability concern I was hit with yesterday, or offer the local shops to give is their problem childs, Or I would install recording devices on the newer (at the time) OBD II vehicles and make a learning session on reading the data.
We presented this idea to the school's advisory group and they liked it, AGAIN , I told the owner I would stay long enough to see if students signed up and while he looked for an instructor for this NEW class. Initially, 7 students agreed to stay and pay for 8 more weeks instead of graduating. I have to admit, these students were the "Cream of the Crop" and I had a ball with them. The other students were taking notice and in no time we had another 15 that elected to stay and do 8 more weeks, word got out in the area and we were being asked by a lot of shops to look at their problem vehicles. The ONLY negative of this entire project was, after about 4 or 5 sessions of this new class, we had one of out semi-annual advisory board meetings and in the beginning of these meetings with the members, which had Technicians, Shop Owners, Dealership owners and service managers, the owner of the school would always asked if anyone had something to say before we start the meeting? One of the Dealership Service managers raised his hand and said "Whatever you guys are doing for that extra 8 week period with some of the students should be made MANDATORY for all of the students"...…...I immediately disagreed with him because I told him that the students that do this class ELECT to stay and REALLY want to be there, if we start to FORCE students to stay 8 more weeks, I think it would be harder to sell the original program PLUS I would have students that just want to be an entry level tech. This service manager had 3 of the students from the program and said the difference is like Night and Day, in some cases they are actually teaching some of the other techs procedures. I LOST THAT NIGHT and it became a mandatory course for all of the students, I feel it never was the same after that, Did the student become exposed to more real world issues...…..YES. But I feel if trade schools would have that "GAP" course as an offering, it would make A LOT of difference in what Tanner is talking about.
SORRY for the long post, But this is a VERY important issue in our industry and SOMETHING has to be done...…..IMHO
I agree with your saying that students need to learn diagnostics. Some of the issues I have witnessed over the years are: students are coming to our schools with less and less mechanical background; in other words they don't tinker with cars like many of us when we were growing up. Because of this more time is being spent bringing them up to speed. The downfall I see in the colleges is the emphasis on short courses rather than semester length. At Skyline we still run semester length 15 unit courses. Currently the president of the college is fighting us to create shorter courses. Main reason why, less full-time instructors, less money spent, and the opportunity to cancel classes.
These students need repetition and integration of lecture, demonstration and extensive hands on time. By the word integration I mean it is difficult to teach engine performance by teaching short courses in say engine operation, fuel systems, ignition systems, engine testing, computer controls, emissions, etc. These subjects need to have these topics lumped together in a long course because you have to go back and forth between these related subjects.
It also depends on the instructor when it comes to teaching diagnostics. When I teach computer controls and cover sensors, I always make them understand how that input is used by the processor to command an output. So, as they are learning the theory of the system and circuit they are also learning diagnostics. It the perfect world it is nice to know what an NTC is, how it works, but more importantly how will the failure of this circuit affect driveability. Nice to know, need to know. Another example, when I am teaching computer controls, it is important to explain what the computer knows and what it doesn't know and how it only reacts (rationality, plausibility, etc), to: like, a plugged CAT, a restricted fuel filter, etc. This is what I mean by being able to teach and integrate many subjects within a long courses.
This goes for most subjects, how do you teach alignment without an understanding of brake, tire, or suspension issues? Learning theory is a process, not a lesson in memorization.
Finally, all of this must be done repetitively in the shop environment, that means labs and live work. Not jus once but multiple times. Long courses provide the opportunity to accomplish this much needed goal of education. While there is no making up for on the job experience, especially the pressure that comes with it, the student must feel comfortable with practical aspect to be effective in the field.
Thank you everyone for the input. This topic means a lot to me because I constantly here from dealerships and independent shops that they are not impressed with the students these schools are turning out. I push them to think back in their early days and ask them how many years it took for them to really get comfortable doing repair work. Typically they reply 5-10 years. I then ask why they feel someone should be an expert at 2. They never seem to have a good answer for that.
In the nursing field when a RN graduates they enter the field and their employers know that they will still need more training. The wage they are paid at the start of their career is still a good above average wage. Now I am not comparing our field to the nursing field but my point is the medical field understands their graduates need to pay school loans back and still be able to live. The automotive field still does not recognize this. When speaking with dealership managers about the students they are getting I still get the same dated response. If they want to make money they need to put their time in and work in the trenches at a low wage and when they become of use to us we will then pay them more. One month later I notice that same dealership has a help wanted ad in the paper and the student they had has moved on. Then they go to the local school and ask for another student and they want one that will stay. It's a cycle that I watch happen time and time again. Its not just dealerships where I see this but they typically get first shot at a college student since they are doing co ops there and they can take more students.
I would like to help change this eventually but I believe the only way this can happen is to start small. I believe each school needs to make it known what the shops are getting. Shops need to work alongside the schools and explain what their needs are for a student. The school should then sit down with the shop owner/manager and the student and talk about what the shop is looking for. If their wants match the students then they can help to tailor that students education to what is needed. If they do not match then I don't feel the college should keep the student with that employer. If the student leaves it can look bad on both the school as well as the employer. Further more that student may leave the field all together and we are in dire need of technicians as we all know.
My intentions are to work on this in my general area and if I can make changes here then maybe I can try to help other areas as well.