How to Choose Training Tools

By G.C. Skipper | August 29, 2014

Reprinted with the permission of Equipment Manager magazine, the magazine of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals.

Training geared specifically for fleet managers, operators, technicians and other industry workers has gone through a metamorphosis in recent years. That change has been brought about by a number of factors, including advancing technology, legislative mandate, and the practical need for finding more efficient and effective ways to run a profitable operation.

A variety of outside sources—OEMs, dealers, unions, consultants, vocational schools, community colleges and online universities such as AEMPU—make up an extensive menu selection from which equipment managers can choose.

Tips on Training

Wade Turlington, director of sales training for Volvo Construction Equipment, offers these pointers in implementing a training program:

  • Begin by identifying your needs. “You look at what’s required to do the job, no matter if it is a technician, equipment operator or lube person.”
  • Conduct a competency profile of the personnel doing the job.
  • Investigate where they can get these competencies. Is it through union halls, vocational schools, online, or is it through a manufacturer or a course that the dealer provides?

In short, says Turlington, it’s all about mapping—looking at your workforce and mapping out a competency course.

But the fundamental question is: How can asset managers make the best use of the opportunities that are out there? The answer is a familiar one: It depends on what type of training the individual fleet manager needs.

That’s not an evasive answer. There are good reasons why one size can’t fit all. For instance, a company might need “soft” training, such as leadership development or risk management. Another company needs operator training to cut down on fuel consumption. Yet another organization’s priority might focus on technician training to improve understanding of troubleshooting, maintaining and repairing a new generation of engines or hydraulic systems.

For example, the rapid-fire changes in technology and what fleet managers know or don’t know about them have become increasingly important in fleet equipment decision-making.

As often happens with major shifts in a familiar landscape, there is inevitably an outcrop of new terminology and words during the transformation. One of those words is “screenagers.” It may never become an industry household word, but it is a descriptive attempt at distinguishing the newer, younger and tech-savvy fleet professionals from more seasoned veterans who don’t know a tweet from a Twitter.           

AEMP Online Training

AEMP University was introduced in 2011 to offer courses designed to help individuals create a career path in all sectors of the heavy-equipment industry.

The training format, which is always a work in progress, encompasses three levels. Level 1 covers basic concepts and is geared primarily for those with a goal to become Equipment Management Specialists (EMS). Levels 2 and 3 are deeper dives into subject matter and are tailored for more experienced professionals. This more in-depth training helps prepare candidates to be designated as Certified Equipment Managers (CEM) or Certified Equipment Support Professionals (CESP).

Subjects include all of AEMP’s 17 core competencies, such as benchmarking, financial management, risk management, parts and facilities management, and shop and facilities management.

Currently, AEMPU is developing a study program that enables candidates to become involved with specific job site and managerial issues facing asset managers during a typical work day. The candidate makes “real world” decisions and is graded on his decisions and how they affected the outcome of the project.

“We’re seeing a lot of ‘screenagers’ coming into the market, young guys who grew up on iPods and smartphones,” says Brian Yureskes, director of training and publications for Komatsu America. “What that’s doing is changing the way training is done and the way the market is dealing with it. AEMP University is one source that helps us keep up with these changes and helps drive our business,” he says. “We have a lot of exposure to the [AEMP] education committee, which is responsible for training. We are big supporters of that.”

In Komatsu’s training situation, the first question screenagers ask is: Can I get it on an app that I can access on a smartphone? “They want the information accessible at all times, in 10 minutes, not in two hours,” Yureskes says.

To address these types of situations and keep pace with the needs of customers, Komatsu uses a “boots on the ground” approach, he says. Basically, Komatsu America acts as a conduit for training requests that come through its North American distributorships.

“Distributors communicate to us what end-users want in terms of training and what they, the distributors, need in terms of product support,” Yureskes says.

Training requests flowing through this conduit, as might be expected, tend to focus mostly on product training or on helping the Komatsu distributor handle situations he isn’t prepared to handle. “This approach has proven very successful for us,” he says.

The OEM takes a two-prong approach to the training it offers. One is technical in nature, such as general hydraulics and undercarriage; the other is operational. Although Komatsu does not offer soft training outside its own internal personnel, Yureskes says, some of its distributors rely on outside services to provide customers with nontechnical training. Performance coaching in a union environment is an example. Although the company doesn’t directly provide soft training to customers, if requested, it obtains soft training materials from outside services to fulfill the requests.

“Obviously, if an outside source is doing leadership training for a major global corporation, that training is vastly different from the shop-level needs of a smaller, regional company,” Yureskes says.

Because companies, like people, are so different, Yureskes says the only thing generic about training is, perhaps, the template used to create the program.

The heavy-equipment industry is a highly word-of-mouth-driven place, he says. “Typically, it’s like trying to find a good plumber. Fleet managers and owners often act on recommendations.”

Although most outside training services do a good job in the heavy-equipment industry, Yureskes cautions that, “There are a lot of consultants out there, and some of them have absolutely no heavy-equipment experience, no union experience, and no technical manufacturing experience.”

Dave Gorski, CEM, fleet administrator for K-Five Construction, identified another factor that drives fleet managers to seek out the best training available: attrition. As younger technicians come in to fill the gaps left by retirees, he says, it is just as important to train them to work safely as it is to advance their technical knowledge.

To do that, Gorski deals with local distributors, OEMs and outside experts. For instance, five years ago he sent his technicians to Mack for training on the emissions-related changes occurring in the engines that were coming into the market.

“They went there to be updated on the engines and what to watch out for with the new technology,” Gorski says.

Another source of training Gorski has used is Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers’ Apprentice and Skill Improvement Program (ASIP). He plans to visit them again in the near future, he says, because another generation of mechanics is preparing to retire in the next two to four years.

He was on the original committee to help select 24 candidates to go into the union’s ASIP four-year course. K-Five sponsored some of the apprentices in the initial class, he says.

Gorski says that after the technicians complete the required number of training hours while an apprentice, “they graduate on an hourly work quota within their range of pay schedule up to a full-fledged journeyman.”

The decision on who to send to the manufacturer or union for training depends on “what we feel we need to brush up on or get involved with at the time,” he says. “Other considerations are what training each outside source offers and what the work schedule looks like.

“In this business, anything and everything is about scheduling, and even if you schedule something, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” Gorski says. “This year I started earlier than I have in a long time bringing guys back due to increasing workloads, and I’m still six to eight weeks behind. We’re running 24 hours, but there’s no catching up. Right now we have a paving schedule at Chicago’s Midway Airport with a 56-hour turnaround. If I can get technicians out of a Local 150 class, I’ve got a bit of an advantage since they are already working on the newer equipment. That eases the pressure a little bit,” he says.

John Shanahan, commercial manager for job site solutions at Caterpillar, identified several ways Caterpillar can help with training and the resources to provide the training.

The first and most common training activity, he says, is basic machine familiarization. As the technology within the machines continues to advance and the capabilities of the machines improve, basic machine familiarization, along with training at the time of delivery, are critical to maximizing the returns on new-machine investment.

After basic training has been completed and the operator has used the machine within the operation, a more advanced level of training is required. This training can assist the operator in refining his operational techniques to improve productive capacity and reducing operating techniques that are detrimental to machine health.

The highest level of training occurs when a customer, dealer and manufacturer collaborate on the job site, Shanahan says. “With a collaborative engagement, the distributor and manufacturer gain a better understanding of all of the tasks a customer is attempting to complete with a given machine in the environment where the machine is being used,” he says.

“With this understanding, the training can go beyond machine operation and can start to focus on areas such as operator technique. For example, the training can focus on haul road design, proper fleet design for a task, establishment of operational metrics and safety—all of which affect overall site and fleet performance, not just individual machine performance.”

As noted by other OEMs, the training that is provided is highly dependent on the type of training that’s needed, Shanahan says. Basic familiarization, for instance, might come from a distributor sales rep versed in the features and benefits of a machine. Cat dealers frequently bring in seasoned market professionals “who understand the typical site tasks through direct hands-on experience,” he says. “These marketing professionals also spend time with factory design and others who provide additional details on the operation and function of the machine.”

Equipment managers can access the training offered by Caterpillar through the local dealer or the sales or product support representative.

“Training cannot happen only at the operational level,” Shanahan says. “Managers also must participate and understand the training that is given.” If training is not heard and understood at all levels of the organization, he says, “old habits will quickly resurface and the benefits of the training will be minimized or lost.”

Volvo Construction Equipment singles out fleet utilization as being of primary importance in the OEM training sector. Wade Turlington, director of Volvo’s customer center and sales training, says the company has made great strides over the years in helping fleet professionals with fleet optimization through its telematics system.

“Volvo sets up the fleet manager with the ability to track his fleet, not just by geographical location, but through a series of fault codes or warnings about maintenance hazards,” Turlington says. “These e-mail alerts, which are frequently updated, keep the machines working at top condition. Right now, training in telematics is one of the keys that we can use toward optimization of the fleet.”

Another training tool Volvo offers is operator training, which is done on-site.

“We come out and do ride-and-drives with the operators, but not just to ride around with them,” says Turlington. “We observe speed on the job site, for instance, or throttle usage that can help keep fuel costs down and maximize fuel consumption. All this is done on a consultant basis.”

With some of Volvo’s key accounts, the company works through its dealers who many times have factory-trained people to walk fleet professionals through the training process, he says. The key for fleet managers in gaining the best use out of available training is to work through the local dealer and build a strong relationship.

“If the dealer doesn’t have the competency to perform certain training,” says Turlington, “we come out with an instructor to set up a train-the-trainer program.”

In a situation like that, Volvo meets with the fleet manager and other key people throughout the organization and travels to different work sites. “In many cases, we put together a program for the fleet organization to roll out to its operation.”

There is really no generic training program, Turlington says.

 “You can’t do that because it depends on what the customer is doing with his fleet,” he says. “For instance, a company with a fleet of articulated dump trucks requires training that is different from a company with a fleet of wheel loaders. You have to start with the specific needs of the customer.”

There is generic training for general fleet management, “such as making sure the machine is the right one for the specific application or fleet sizing for program management,” he says. “If you have a 40-ton articulated truck and a 2-yard excavator, that’s not really matched well. What we do is give fleet managers recommendations like suggesting the use of two trucks rather than three in certain applications.”

For fleet managers, accessing the training available from OEMs isn’t difficult. In addition to the training available through dealer representatives, “many OEMs, including us, have literature and online training for people who want product information,” Turlington says. “You go to the manufacturer’s training portal to get a base level of information.”

All told, common sense is the best way to make use of outside training sources, say the experts. Asset managers should dig a little deeper than a Google search. They need to enlist support of all key levels of management, analyze their particular training needs, understand why one size doesn’t fit all, and seek assistance from industry educational professionals.

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