By Mindy Long
Training for automotive and diesel technicians is critical, and training programs have had to alter their curriculum to meet students’ needs while adhering to social distancing and safety protocols during the pandemic. Virtual education fills a critical need; many within the industry said a hybrid of online and offline learning, giving students the choice, makes modern education and training relevant and convenient.
Optimal Training Ground
“While there is an immense amount of great online resources available that offer training for technicians, there’s no substitute for working on vehicles in person,” said Angela Stansfield, marketing manager, Rosedale Technical College.
Still, restrictions on in-person learning are changing the way Rosedale Technical College operates. It is working to apply for permanent distance education components within its technical education programs for the remainder of the year and beyond.
“Adapting to remote learning for programs that rely heavily on the hands-on training component has really been a challenge, but it has been a wonderful opportunity for us to explore and innovate how we improve our education going forward,” Stansfield said.
Lynda Cervantes, director of marketing at Western Tech, said adapting training during a pandemic has been a day-to-day process. Western Tech’s program director created a plan based on individual programs, identifying the courses or portions of the courses that could be taught online and what would need hands-on teaching. “From there, a schedule was developed, so we have students coming in during certain times to do their training, and the other time is online. Students also have access to the online modules and homework,” Cervantes said.
Theory to Practice
Jeff Harris, director of admissions at Jones Technical Institute, said online options can’t cover everything. “Where it is limited is the real-life angles, the real-life position of the part that is next to a part that blocks the service and has to be overcome to get to the service,” he said. “Because we work with tangible products and materials, there is not an equal substitute.”
At Western Tech, the only portion of the courses that move online is theory. “The students still need the hands-on portion to support the theory. Although many of the students have commented that they appreciate the time they have to do online work, they prefer the hands-on. It's what they do and who they are,” Cervantes said.
Western Tech has taken extra precautions to keep in-person learning safe. “Classes and equipment are sanitized, we are at limited capacity every day at the school, and we have a company checking temperatures as they walk in.”
Rosedale Tech also welcomed students back to campus for hands-on instruction. To keep students safe, the school was able to limit class sizes and ensures masks are worn throughout the campus. Rosedale Tech also replaced classroom furniture with individual desks, installed plexiglass structures where necessary, and increased sanitation stations and cleaning practices, Stansfield said.
Cervantes said many students struggled at first with doing classes online but were appreciative that they could continue their studies and that the school was doing what it needed to do to keep them safe so they could return to campus. “It takes more discipline from them to read and understand. That’s not how our students are wired,” she said.
At JTech, the outset of the “Safer at Home” initiative in Jacksonville, Florida, and Duval County hit right as its students were finishing up their term finals and were off for a week. The school extended that by a week, and three of its executives locked themselves in a conference room and used Microsoft Teams to convert its general education classes and curriculum to high-quality online versions.
“These online courses allowed students the option to continue their education and stay on track for their graduation dates, or if students felt they needed to take a term off, they could,” Harris said. “It was overwhelming the commitment by our students to stay on track and take the online offerings.”
The experiences during Covid-19 ultimately make the on-campus experience more valuable because students will be able to do some of the theoretical components via distance education, which will allow them to spend more quality time in the shops and in the labs, Stansfield explained.
The Next Gen
Harris said manufacturers and dealerships in all disciplines are adopting new thoughts on creating interest and a pipeline for future technicians as the public schools have reduced if not eliminated pathways for students interested in non-traditional post-secondary education.
In April, Mack Trucks launched free e-learning courses for high school and secondary technical education students interested in becoming diesel technicians but couldn’t attend in-person hands-on training due to Covid-19. The classes, which were provided to students through their local Mack dealer, offered an option for training typically done in a classroom.
“Recognizing that it’s impossible for students to train in person at this time, the Mack Trucks Academy decided to work with Mack dealers to offer online training that is comprehensive,” said Scott Behe, Mack Trucks Academy senior manager for training support.
Volvo Trucks North America also offered 90 days of free training. “Training skilled, professional diesel technicians is a crucial component of uptime, especially with the demands currently being placed on the trucking industry as a result of Covid-19,” said Leanne Fitzpatrick, strategic programs manager, Volvo Trucks Academy. “It is important for Volvo Trucks to continue to provide educational opportunities for students during this difficult time.”
Fitzpatrick said the online training was one way to cultivate relationships with future truck technicians, supporting them in starting their career and filling the need for trained service professionals.
The Future of Education
Once the pandemic is over, Harris said there is a place for online as a supplement to training aids. Most manufacturers use portals to conduct new product training or continuing education in the field, he said. “These options are good for a technician with their base training securely under their belt,” he said. “For the initial training student, they need to be in a supportive instructor assisted lab or classroom where they receive the benefits of their peers' questions and answers to accelerate their training.”
Ultimately, Covid-19 could increase the number of people pursuing careers in the trades. “As service industries like retail, hospitality, bars and restaurants were closed down, those workers saw commercials celebrating truck drivers, service technicians and like workers who were applauded as heroes for keeping the grocery stores full and for supply chains working to keep America supplied,” Harris said. “We finally saw the equality that all work is important.”
Cervantes said now more than ever, people understand that technicians are essential. “Through the last four months, technicians, CDL drivers, and grocery employees, along with law enforcement and medical workers, have more respect from the public. They are known as essential workers.”
Stansfield said Rosedale Technical College has already seen an increase in prospective students reaching out considering a career change due to Covid.
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