Training on Trial - Tire Review Magazine

Training on Trial

"Mornin’ Slim. Need a refill on that coffee?" Rolph held the cast-iron coffee pot steady with both hands. It was much heavier than stainless steel models, but necessary – Rolph’s coffee is not for the faint of heart. Or metal.

“Sure, why not.” I pulled on my protective goggles as the boiling liquid hit the ceramic mug with an acidic hiss.

It was our monthly gathering of shop owners at Rolph’s Diner, an event sponsored by Herkle’s Auto Parts, our local supplier.

Sitting around the table were Dieter, the local import service guy; Harry from Block Busters, the engine rebuild shop; Spoke Lee from The Alignment Shop; Guy from The Tire Guy and Dutchy, the local tow truck operator. I suspect he only came for the free cinnamon buns.

Herk wiped some crumbs from his mustache and banged the side of his mug with a spoon. “Gentlemen,” he began. “For today’s discussion, I’ve chosen the topic of training courses.”

Spoke groaned. “Herk, I’m fed up with training courses. I can’t get my guys to go anymore and I’m tired of harassing ‘em. Just last week my head tech told me straight out that he’s been doing brakes and front ends for so long that he knows everything there is to learn.” He swallowed some coffee and grimaced. “He says he wouldn’t go to another course, even if I paid him.”

“Ja, and dat’s your problem,” interjected Dutchy. “You only send ‘em on deir own time. I mean, what do you expect, dat de’ll be all excited about sitting through a night class after working hard all day? And on deir own dime, ta boot?”

Harry joined in the fray. “Why shouldn’t they? It’s for their own benefit.” He snorted. “Truth is, they figure they got better things to do at night, like fix cars on the side for their buddies!” He scowled at Dutchy. “And look who’s talking; you’ve never taken a refresher course in your life.”

Dutchy shrugged. “Why should I? I just tow the junkers; I don’t have to fix ‘em.”

A heated debate broke out, requiring Herk’s intervention. “Now calm down, men. Believe me, I’ve heard all the excuses too, but that don’t change things. Especially now with the new hybrid vehicles coming out, training and upgrading is a necessary evil, whether we like it or not.”

Dieter spoke up. “I know training’s important, Herk. I pay my guys’ expenses and even send them during the day if I have to. But they’re getting tired of it and don’t want to go anymore.”

“How come?” asked Herk. “They’ll fall behind if they don’t stay current.”

Dieter added more sugar to his coffee. “Well, to be honest, some of the stuff we’ve seen lately has been pathetic. There’s gotta be some quality control if I’m going to keep investing in my guys like this.”

“I hear ya,” Herk admitted. “Even some of the courses put on by my own association ain’t been the greatest.”

“It’s not your fault, Herk,” I said. “I’ll bet even the in­structors get frustrated trying to teach a class of tired technicians, most of whom don’t want to be there.”

“Tell me about it.” Herk lowered his voice. “Just the other day, Dave at Ford told me they’re doing a course on power stroke diesels, and even inviting the independents. D’ya know what one service manager told him? ‘My tech knows everything there is to know about Fords, so he don’t need to come.’” He shook his head. “Can you imagine the arrogance?”

“It’s not arrogance, Herk,” said Dieter. “It’s just plain ignorance. Most guys don’t know what they don’t know. It’s the old head in the sand scenario.”

Herk leaned back and sighed. “That’s why I brought the subject up today. You all know I’ve been promoting upgrade courses for years now, but I’ll tell ya, I’m getting tired of all the excuses. I wonder why I bother.”

Guy snorted. “Why you bother? Yeah, I mean that’s obvious. You want us to stay in business. If we go under, who will you sell parts to?”

Guy had a point: a blunt one, but a point.

We tossed around some ideas, and then returned to our own shops. Quigley looked up from his computer terminal as I walked in. “Well, any pearls of wisdom to report this morning?”

“Just come with me,” I said, heading for the stairs. “We’ve got work to do.”

It took most of the day, but by afternoon coffee I was able to gather the crew upstairs on the mezzanine above the tire and parts room. “Hey, cool gear, boss!” exclaimed Beanie, gazing at the comfortable chairs gathered around a new flat screen TV. A DVD player and an Internet-ready computer stood to the side. The throw rug on the plywood floor was accented by a small coffee table with bowls of chips, pretzels, and most importantly, remote controls.

“Gentlemen,” I announced. “Welcome to Training Central. I’ve decided that since keeping current with the latest tire information and repair procedures is so important, that we’ll try and do most of it from right here. Quigley and I will schedule the work so that each month all of you will have time to keep yourself up to date.”

Tooner removed his ball cap and scratched his head. “Whoa, ya mean on company time an’ all? I guess I’ll have to quit falling asleep during the training sessions from now on.”

“That would be helpful,” I said dryly.

“Well done, Slim,” remarked Basil. “Does that TV get my favorite cooking show, by any chance?”

Beanie opened the mini-fridge and peeked inside. “Hey, check out the refreshments. I’m up first!” He dug into the stack of training DVDs we already owned (but nobody had watched) while Basil threw a bag of popcorn into the microwave. Before long, we had a real party going on. “Hey, can I invite the guys from Spoke Lee’s over tonight for a session? They’d love this!”

Okay, call it bribery. But between training videos, online courses and even the technical forums available on the net, I’m going to do all I can to keep up with this crazy industry. Grab­bing a bag of chocolate chip cookies out of the small pantry, I sat down. Who knows; maybe even the boss can learn a thing or two.


Rick Cogbill, a freelance writer and former shop owner in Summerland, B.C., has written The Car Side for a variety of trade magazines for the past 14 years. “A Fine Day for a Drive,” his first book based on the characters from this column, is now available for order at thecarside.com.

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