TODAY'S HEAVY DUTY SHOP
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Lunch and Learn

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Define and refine your training efforts.

By Irvin Bowman, owner of Wayne Truck & Trailer in Sidney, Ohio

I hired my first technician in 2011. As I added more techs and a service advisor, I began exploring options for quality and cost-effective technical training.

Heavy duty truck shops don’t have the abundance of options that automotive repair businesses do. However, I found some computer-based training courses, so I purchased several and made them available to the techs to take home and study. Most shop owners are probably grinning from ear to ear right now, as they can imagine how well that went!

Although I encouraged the techs to take the courses, I think only one or two finally got completed. Then, as the shop grew, it became apparent that electrical training was becoming more imperative.

The Mechanics

Lunch and Learn began when I purchased an electrical training course and reviewed it with my crew. We went through the lessons, which were attended on a voluntary basis, each day during lunch for several weeks. At that time, we ate together at a table in the foyer of the shop.

I give employees bonus wages for each week they complete training courses.

Although the electrical course with the techs was well received, I used a laptop screen that didn’t work well for viewing purposes. So, I went to the local hardware store and bought a plain white shade—which I hung over one of the windows. Then, I bought a projector and used the window shade as a screen for our training sessions.

As the shop continued to grow, so too did the need for training. I decided to define and refine our efforts with four types of training methods for our team:

1. Task-by-task training (or in-shop certification).

Techs get placed on a job that they are not proficient with or are new to. Another tech or I will work with them and train them as the job is completed.

2. Hands-on training.

It can be completed throughout the day as a tech has time. This has been primarily for electrical training, though I would like to explore more types as we go.

3. Online courses.

Techs take them on their own time by logging into our website or onto a training partner’s website. This has been hit and miss as far as participation goes, but I give employees bonus wages for each week they complete training courses.

4. Lunch and Learn (voluntary).

So far, this is the team’s favorite and the most effective method. Other industries use a similar concept, and some even call it by the same name.

Diesel repair techs at Wayne Truck & Trailer participate in lunchtime training.
Photo courtesy Wayne Truck & Trailer

Pizza adds pizzazz to the Lunch and Learn sessions at Wayne Truck & Trailer.

The Engine

During our Lunch and Learn sessions, we implement systems type training for brakes, engines, transmissions and more. We also include lessons about components, such as air valves, hydraulics, electronic controls, suspension, alignment, etc. Following an hour of training week after week, we started noticing small, steady changes at the shop. Things began to flow better, and you could see an overall improvement.

Across the board, the sessions have been helpful. The techs are now more equipped to do what’s needed. They do a much better job at diagnosing, and it takes less time for them to repair the trucks. Although the changes in production and efficiency were gradual at the beginning, we eventually started seeing real results in a few months.

We use Lunch and Learn for more than technical training. We have established shop goals, built a vision statement for the company, and now review shop and individual performance statistics on a regular basis. If a vendor provides onsite training for a product, I invite the company to participate in our sessions.

Our whole team, which includes up to 10 people, attends Lunch and Learn on Tuesdays at noon. We also invite customers and job applicants to participate, but I’ve made no special effort to involve them on a regular basis. If I plan to be away from the office during lunchtime on a Tuesday, one member of the team will invariably ask me, “What about Lunch and Learn?”

We serve a variety of food at Lunch and Learn. Pizza has been a favorite, but we also enjoy Mexican and Chinese food, and fried chicken. For our next Lunch and Learn, one of the guys wants to bring in a brisket to smoke. We try to change the food each week to keep things interesting.

I think a shop’s training program is essential to the business’ survival.

The Key

I plan to hand off the teaching part to some of my senior techs on a subject-by-subject basis. There are two reasons why. First, it will relieve me of the responsibility of having to prepare a course each week. Second, the best way to learn a subject is to teach it. So, my hope is that by instructing the classes, technicians will get a better grasp of the information.

As I look at the future of the heavy duty truck industry, I think a shop’s training program is essential to the business’ survival. Every truck repair shop struggles to recruit good help—let alone already qualified techs. I firmly believe the ability to train will define shops in the coming years. They will need to take a person who’s willing to learn, and provide them with the necessary information and training in a short period of time.

I do not propose that Lunch and Learn will solve all of your training needs. However, I think it’s a step in the right direction.

Editor’s note: Before implementing Lunch and Learn at your shop, please check state laws that might apply regarding training sessions conducted during employee breaks.

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