By Diane M. Calabrese / Published June 2020
Sour notes often get sounded when machines break down. Some harsh tones will meet the ears of a service department repair employee. A service department employee must, therefore, be able to maintain good cheer in difficult situations. That’s in addition to being able to expeditiously assess and provide a solution to a problem.
Is that all? By no means. Service repair department employees must be eager learners. Ongoing training keeps employees on the leading edge of protocols and best practices.
How best to provide the training to repair department employees can be vexing for distributors. “It is difficult; most of our training is on the job, conducted by experienced service techs and managers,” says Dennis Black, president, McHenry Pressure Cleaning Systems Inc. in Frederick, MD.
“We have implemented quick service tips, ideas, and training at our company meeting,” explains Black. “We attempt to supply a five- to ten-minute presentation to cover subjects like basic electrical information, safety, plumbing, etc.”
Black says there are many good ideas for keeping employees in the service department current and strong. He likes the idea of self-check lists, for instance.
The complexity comes from the sheer number of topics in which employees must be solidly versed. A distributor must determine what these topics are and then find a way to provide instruction even as business continues.
“Having a source for the training” can be a difficulty, says Black. “We struggle for good information and resources for training our service staff.”
Black suggests that our industry could use more resources for training. He points to training from manufacturers, which is good, but too often limited to introductory or basic services. He would like to see more updates and advanced training opportunities.
Taking the initiative to find a format for more advanced training in our industry, Black has reviewed what’s going on in other industries. “We have looked at other industries for training, such as heating—HVAC—and electrical supply houses, etc. I have long been a proponent for CETA to orchestrate a continuing training program. Hopefully, a program like this will become a reality in the future.”
In his responses to us, Black touches upon many of the forms of training that can be exploited, ranging from manufacturers to professional organizations. He also sets the foundation for looking to other industries for a template for training.
We take the next step here and look at seven ways a distributor can approach ongoing training for service department employees. Putting a few of the approaches together may yield a stronger method, still. For example, rewarding employees to take a course at a local technical school would tie together incentives and formal technical training.
A word of caution: Ongoing training for service repair department employees may include attainment of certifications, but the training is not a substitute for required certifications. The scope of the work of employees determines mandatory training and certification requirements. An employer is responsible for hazard assessment and process training required if chemicals are in use, for example. OSHA requires a hazard and operability study (HAZOP) if processes are being used that use highly hazardous chemicals, though the design of the study is not dictated.
When manufacturers offer training in new equipment or use of chemicals and detergents, a distributor should send someone to the training. Even if it is training by video conferencing, it may be better to send just one focused individual who then has responsibility as an on-site trainer to train fellow service department members. Training others can be a great way to reinforce learning.
Similarly, perhaps a class that perfects the employee’s skills in digital data storage and retrieval will better enable the individual to make the most of the service department’s online record-keeping system. The class may even allow the employee to make or suggest improvements to the system.
By hiring a consultant to list weak spots, a business owner can stay somewhat clear of the negative reaction concerned employees may have to we-can-do-better advice. A consultant also brings a fresh perspective that can invigorate everyone.
PHMSA, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation, offers a robust list of training modules commensurate with its wide-ranging regulations. True, most service repair employees will not be working with hazardous materials. Yet the modules can deepen the knowledge of employees on topics ranging from safely sending batteries and battery-powered devices by mail to sampling and testing programs for unrefined petroleum-based products. (See www.phmsa.dot.gov/training/hazmat/training-modules for the complete list.)
Here we restate the caution regarding where ongoing training and mandatory training diverge. The excellent PHMSA modules are made available with the reminder that completing them does not substitute for training mandated to meet hazard regulations.
We looked at an online calendar of instructional opportunities for plumbing and mechanical services prepared by the Iowa Department of Public Health. Sixty-nine events were listed for April 2020. Topics included “What’s New in the Uniform Plumbing Code,” “Math for the Trades,” and “What’s New in the Mechanical Code.” (See idph.iowa.gov/pmsb/training/calendar.) The calendar format could easily be adapted by professional organizations as they fill it with topics and training relevant to their members.
A few tips from the eye journal follow. Establish the setting for learning: demonstrate, supervise first tries (practice), be patient, and have a backup plan. Make sure employees understand the significance of their work, such as the risk posed by a machine that is not properly repaired. Remind employees to take the opportunity of having a machine in the shop for a specific issue—repair should not be the only goal, but there should also be routine checks on filters and renewable parts as well as checks for damage.So rich in good ideas for training is the article from the eye journal that we cannot give it adequate treatment here. We strongly encourage readers aiming to bolster their training for service department repair employees to read it. It’s especially useful for a distributor that wants to set up a self-check list for employees.
Ultimately, a distributor will use a variety of methods to ensure ongoing training. The mix of approaches will certainly change over time: If there are veteran members of a service department, they can train and supervise new hires. If there is a sudden turnover in employees, the entire department may need training.
The goal is always the same, however. It is to assemble a highly skilled, dedicated group of employees working in a well-designed and maintained service area. The knowledge and willingness to learn among employees is fully supported by a work area that has good lighting, storage, ventilation, and workspace, as well as excellent tools and easy access to parts and diagnostic equipment.