By: Mike Howell, Service Manager
As a young man growing up in a small-town U.S. farming community, I always enjoyed helping family, friends, and neighbors. There was always some sort of tinkering to do. Whether it was farm maintenance, automobile repair, or volunteering with locals on projects, my hands were always holding a tool of some sort.
No matter what the scheduled task at hand was, you could show up with a box of hand me down tools and get to work. With 21st century technology evolving so quickly, that small box of tools has evolved with it.
Even as a 12 or 13-year-old boy, working with men that were 40 and 50 years older than me, there was not a palpable difference in the way that we did things. I did things the way I was taught, which was usually close to how they were taught. And although they had tips and tricks to make the job easier or faster, they were still using the same tools that their father used, tools that had been passed down from generation to generation. I was not bringing anything to the table that those men were not already trained on. So, what happened?
These days, when a tech arrives to inspect a down vehicle, it is common to see a laptop be one of the first things they grab. I know the baby boomers are shaking their head, but it is a reality! We have even went as far as relabeling the entire wrenching industry work force in the last 15 years, almost making the word ‘mechanic’ obsolete.
Browse your local help wanted ads for any reputable repair business. Whether it is for heavy industrial trucks, automobiles, or even appliance repair, they all have one word in common. Technician!
Tech·ni·cian /tekˈniSHən/ – A trained expert in the field of repair.
(The key word in that definition, is trained.)
It is no secret there is and will be a shortage of qualified individuals to make the correct repairs on the equipment of tomorrow. There is a whole new generation of students joining the workforce, some of them given iPads or tablets to poke around on before they could say their first full words.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have senior mechanics that are just graduating from a flip phone, or have only touched a tablet to entertain one of the grandkids. They can sometimes come off as “technologically impaired.” So how do you mix oil and water? What is the common ground to get everyone focused and working together?
There is the only one common denominator for this equation- TRAINING!
It is available everywhere you look these days, in online or classroom applications. Whether you want to be factory trained or YouTube certified, the information is out there and you are never too old to learn it. Vehicle and equipment manufacturing are only getting more difficult, so it is very much a personal responsibility to keep yourself informed on current trends and technology that is entering the field. Just as much as younger technicians need to learn the turn the laptop off and get their hands dirty, older generations need to take it upon themselves to make sure their industry knowledge is staying up to date as well, and that means keeping up with the latest technology hitting the field.
There is a fading group that saw a huge change in the automobile world when the fuel injection system went mainstream. And now, we have a fluid for the exhaust system? What’s next, blinker fluid? Certainly, as time goes on, each generation will have to adjust. It is inevitable. The train does not stop.
I am sure Henry Ford or the Dodge Brothers would be proud of how far we have come since the invention of rubber tires. Multiplexed controls, fully electric passenger vehicles, self-driving semi’s…. what will they dream up next? How will we repair them? And of course, how will we train the people repairing them?
I do not see the world of wrenching going backwards anytime soon. But, to better move forward, companies must start implementing training programs that help bridge the gap between the older and younger generations. Whether they like it or not, both generations can learn something from the other, and at the end of the day, the similarities are greater than the differences. So, why not start looking at the age gap as a challenge, as an exciting venture to merge two skill sets together, instead of a big eye roll? Younger technicians, go out and teach the older generations how to get use out of the electronic tools and diagnostic equipment, but not to depend on it. Older technicians, teach the younger generations how to trust their instincts, looking at the laptop as one of many tools in their toolbox, not the only tool. Like in every other profession, training is not a “one-and-done” deal. Constant training is something that is not just suggested, but it is imperative throughout the life of your career. There is no better time than now to jump on the wagon and do your part to help flatten the training curve of today, to better understand the vehicles of tomorrow.
Contributions by Sarah Maness