About a hundred automotive technicians turned out over the weekend for the annual LinderTech North Technical Training Conference in Toronto.
The two-day event was organized by John and Leah Cochrane of Cochrane Automotive in the city’s west end.
Topics included GM GDS2 Scan Tool, Hyundai GDS Scan Tool, Operation and Diagnostics of Toyota’s Smart Key System, and Scan Data Analysis for Driveability Diagnostics.
The featured presenters were John Thornton and Scott Shotton, both of Illinois.
Shotten heads up “The Driveability Guys,” which specializes in automotive technical training, mobile diagnostics/re-programming and other technical resources. Shotton has over 20 years of technical experience in automotive repair shops, and he currently teaches automotive technology at Kishwaukee College and performs mobile diagnostics and reprogramming for independent repair shops. He maintains 21 ASE certifications including: Master Automotive Technician, Master Truck Technician, A9, L1, and Alternate Fuels.
Thornton is a working technician and co-owner of Pro-Tech Auto Repair in Chicago. He specializes in driveability diagnostics and is an ASE-certified Master Technician with L-1 certification.
Canadian Technician cornered Thornton during a break to discuss the latest training trends.
CANADIAN TECHNICIAN: Have you noticed a shift in attitudes toward training in the past five years or so?
JOHN THORNTON: I think technicians today are more concerned about the quality of training. I think that once upon a time, if a training event were held, guys would just come to get training. But technicians are very conservative today when it comes to spending money. They’re almost like a consumer. They’re much better informed about what they want, they are very discerning, and they’re looking for specific topics. If one provides the right topics, they’ll attend.
Before they’d come out and maybe grumble if the training wasn’t top notch, but now they won’t come out unless they know they’re going to get something of value.
Well, first of all, there’s the time commitment. It means being away from the shop, being away from their family. There’s the amount of money they have to spend to attend the event. So, like the old saying, they want to get the biggest bang for their buck. They want the right content in a class to help them diagnose vehicles or systems.
And typically those are scan tool related.
These can be scan tool-related, but more they’re likely to be on very specific topics. Instead of having a class on how to diagnose a misfire, maybe it would be how to diagnose a misfire on a late-model GM or a late-model Honda. There could be a pattern failure, or there could be a method that the manufacturer has endorsed, whether it is using a scan tool or a scope. So sometimes it is equipment-related and sometimes it is a manufacturer’s system.
What about the caliber of students you’ve seen in the classroom over the years. Are they asking better, smarter questions? Are there fewer blank stares?
Technicians that come out to training regularly, as a whole, are extremely well informed and very, very smart. And the questions that are asked of the instructor today tend to be more challenging than what was asked 15 or 20 years ago. The questions back then were very broad. Today they are very specific, very narrow, and many times the technician asking the question will have an example. He’s asking the question because he had that car in the shop and that’s the issue he remembers and that’s what he’s going to ask about. And that’s why he goes to training in the first place. So, yes, the technicians that attend training today tend to be operating at a very high level.
What do you see as the start of the high-tech diagnostic era when this kind of high-level training became necessary?
That’s a tough question to answer. I would suspect that for technicians working in the 1970s, as they started to see the very slow change to electronics, from breaker points to electronic ignition, and the introduction of the catalytic converter, that was very challenging at the time. And then in the 1980s as we saw computers – GM, Ford, and then Chrysler bringing computers into the vehicle – that was certainly very challenging. In every era there has always been a technology that was a challenge, and was intimidating at the time. We look back, those of us who have been around for 10 or 20 years, we were very intimidated when we saw these systems. We mastered them eventually, but now we have new systems to learn. With every new model year now, we’ll have new systems to learn. Dealership technicians are the ones who are challenged the most because they are literally seeing the latest technology.
What do you think is most intimidating these days?
Well, one of the topics we’re covering is Toyota Smart Key. This is a system that is of great convenience for the customer. They’re able to get into their vehicle without fiddling around with keys, as long as they have this Smart Key in their possession. However, when these systems fail, they can be very challenging to diagnose. These have a very steep learning curve. They are systems that are based on many separate components and many smaller systems.
Are we seeing failure rates in these systems that these guys would have to worry about that already?
Oh yes, we’re seeing failures. Generally dealership technicians tend to see the problems almost immediately. But sometimes problems only occur over time – especially wear-and-tear issues. And then the independent sector may see those failures and the dealership techs won’t see them –unless the customer takes his car to the dealership well out of warranty.
Are you seeing more training conferences being organized to address the growing need for technician training? And are techs more interested in learning?
There are a number of events from the west coast to the east coast which offer really good training these days. And, yes, technicians are excited about these. But many organizations are offering webinars for technicians who are unable to travel to these bigger events. They can get pretty good training right through their computer, no matter where they are. The classroom-style training, where you have the instructor in front of a group of technicians is still very popular. But webinars provide a real benefit, especially if they are fairly short and are offered on a variety of topics. A technician can go to them, like he would to a library to pull a book out, and pull that procedure out. Watch the whole thing and then go right back to the car. This is really powerful stuff and it raises the level of technician expertise in a very cost-effective way.