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2013’s Biggest Loser: The RV Technician

There is a very real possibility that by the end of this year RV technicians will lose what, in my opinion, is an invaluable training resource – RVIA’s Trouble Shooter Clinics.

Why is it potentially going away? The answer is simple: RV dealers and RV repair shops aren’t sending their employees to get trained. The fate of the program will be determined in coming months by registrations for the three remaining clinics scheduled this year. One of the five clinics has already been canceled and another is potentially on the chopping block.

I can’t express how sad I think that is. I sure hope there are others who agree with me and are willing to do something about it.

Now, I could be wrong about how valuable this program is, but since the program started in 1989, more than 7,000 technicians have attended the hands-on training program. For 20-plus years, technicians have been reaping the rewards of this one-of-a-kind venue.

Will future technicians have this opportunity? Maybe not. It doesn’t look good.

Trouble Shooter Clinics are the only hands-on training program for technicians that aren’t offered “independently” in the RV industry, according to Bruce Hopkins, RVIA vice president of standards and steering. He says the program brings in various instructors from a host of suppliers where technicians can learn from multiple companies all at one location.

“I think the training has a very strong possibility of going away, especially if dealers don’t start supporting it,” Hopkins says. “If we can’t deliver students, suppliers will stop sending their instructors. It will be too cost-prohibitive for them to not only incur the travel costs but also send the equipment technicians need to do true hands-on training.”

Here are some cold hard facts. A clinic was scheduled in Orange County, California, for February 18th - 21st. California arguably has the largest concentration of RV repair facilities in the United States. There are an estimated 500 repair facilities within driving distance of where the clinic was to take place. Only five technicians registered for the clinic. Needless to say, the clinic was canceled.

I could be way off base here, but there were only five technicians in all of California and Arizona who could benefit from hands-on training? Only five companies who saw the value for their employees to attend? If that is true, in my opinion, that is pretty sad. I’m sorry if that offends anyone, but I really do feel that way. I just can’t wrap my mind around that.

There must be some other factor. My only guess is that either people didn’t know about the clinic, or they didn’t know how great of a return on investment it is to send technicians there.

I’m just a lowly magazine publisher, but several years ago I attended a Trouble Shooter Clinic. I can personally attest to its value, not only by what I learned, but also by the rave reviews I heard first-hand from technicians who attended the classes with me.

Just last month I sent RV PRO magazine Staff Writer Anthony Bowe to the Trouble Shooter Clinic scheduled in Loveland, Colorado. He too heard rave reviews from technicians in attendance. This means nearly one-half of the RV PRO magazine team has attended a Trouble Shooter Clinic. Can your company say the same? Heck, we don’t even fix RVs.  

Going Forward

The next scheduled Trouble Shooter Clinic will take place March 25th – 28th in South Bend, Indiana. It only has 27 technicians registered out of the 180 spots available. That equates to 15 percent capacity for the clinic.

In Ohio, Michigan and Indiana there are an estimated 500 businesses with RV technicians working in them. What the numbers indicate is that only 5 percent of businesses in the area who offer RV repair are willing to invest in having their employees receive hands-on training at this venue.

Is this the market deciding, or are companies merely unaware or unable to send their technicians for the training? I’d love to hear you, our readers’, opinion on it.       

Another clinic is scheduled in Tampa, Florida, August 5th -8th. Currently, there are absolutely zero technicians registered for this clinic. Unless repair facilities step up and register their employees for the clinic, it will be canceled. Florida and surrounding areas have the third largest concentration of RV repair facilities in the country. If you want this clinic to happen, the time to register is now!

The final clinic is scheduled in Calgary, Alberta, November 4th - 7th. Once again, not a single dealership or repair facility has registered. I’m told that technician training opportunities in Canada are limited. Register now to secure a spot.

Why Send Someone

What will your employees learn should you decide to send them? There are four learning tracks to choose from. Here is how they break down:

Foundation-Plumbing Track (3 days) - $480 per person

24 training hours of continuing education credits

1.     Propane (4 hours) – Covers storage and handling, safety connections, thermocouples, venting, regulations, testing devices, control systems and common problems.

2.     Pre-Delivery Inspection/Preventive Maintenance (4 hours) – Covers the purpose of a thorough PDI and what items should be inspected and documented and an overview of the knowledge and skills necessary to provide routine inspection and maintenance to keep the customer safe and happy.

3.     Customer Care (1 hour) – A presentation to help technicians improve customer satisfaction.

4.     Fire & Life Safety (1.5 hours) – A presentation of safety requirements pertaining to smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, propane detectors, fire extinguishers, floor penetrations, and glass or mirror requirements.

5.     Basic Electricity (4 hours) – A presentation of 12V DC and 120V AC. Includes hands-on exercises covering safety; testing meters and procedures; and common problems and solutions.

6.     Water Distribution/Drainage-Waste Water/Monitoring Systems (5 hours) – Will cover water supply line, drain lines, holding tanks, fresh tanks, and monitoring installations, sizing, and repair. Also will include testing methods and the new waterless valve installations at fixtures.

7.     Water Pumps (3 hours) – Covers pump operation and selection. Hands-on exercises with common problems and troubleshooting.

8.     Thetford Sanitation (1.5 hours) – Covers the identification, maintenance, and troubleshooting of all current Thetford toilets, smart totes, smart drains and macerating pumps. Efficient part replacement and troubleshooting demonstrated.

Appliance Track (4 days) - $640 per person

32 training hours of continuing education credits

1.     Water Heaters – A comprehensive course covering both Atwood and Suburban water heaters, including specifications, installation and sequence of operation. Course includes the water heater tear down, testing and reassembly.

2.     On-Demand Water Heaters – A comprehensive course to familiarize technicians with Girard on-demand RV water heaters. Course includes detailed instruction on sequence of operation, operational processes and diagnostics.

3.     Air Conditioning and Heating – Comprehensive courses covering Airxcel and Dometic air conditioners and heat pumps. Instruction includes component operation, installation and troubleshooting. Students will perform a cooling performance and use meters to diagnose components.

4.     Refrigerators – A comprehensive course that includes both Norcold and Dometic refrigerators, covering absorption refrigeration versus gravity, heat transfer, component operation and completion of a cooling performance test.

5.     Furnaces – A comprehensive course covering both Atwood and Suburban furnaces, including specifications, installation and sequence of operation. Course includes the furnace tear down, testing and reassembly.

Power Sources Track (3 days) - $480 per person

24 training hours of continuing education credits

1.     Generators (6 hours) – A comprehensive course covering Onan generators including component identification and function, reading and understanding wiring schematics and hands-on performance of operational tests.

2.     Converters (4 hours) – This course will cover the operating characteristics of three types of power converters and their appropriate applications. Hands-on performance diagnostics will be performed on each type.

3.     Power Systems (4 hours) – This class covers 30- and 50-amp input systems, load panels, basic energy management, line generator switches and neutral current in in-phase and out-of-phase power sources.

4.     Batteries (4 hours) – Covers battery technology, inspection, testing equipment, specifications and terminology.

5.     Inverters & Transfer Switches (3 hours) – This course covers inverter/charger and transfer switch basic operation, installation wiring, programming, troubleshooting and board replacement in the field.

6.     Energy Management Systems (1 hour) – An introduction to automatic generator start and AC load control products. Emphasis will be on troubleshooting and identifying the most common failure modes.

7.     RV-CTM (2 hours) – Covers the basic concepts behind RV-CTM, demonstration of a working RV-CTM network and troubleshooting common wiring problems. Includes diagnostics and configuration of common RV-CTM modules using a computer service tool.

Running Gear, Hydraulics, Slide-outs & Towing (2 days) - $320 per person

16 training hours of continuing education credits

1.     Running Gear & Axles (4 hours) – Explanation and identification of components of axle, brakes and suspension systems. Hands-on training on brakes, bearings, seals and measuring of axles and frames.

2.     Hydraulics & Slide-outs (4 hours) – Covers hydraulic theory and operational characteristics, demonstrates different leveler and slide operations (both electric and hydraulic), and discusses effective ways to troubleshoot and make timely repairs.

3.     Towing & Hitches (8 hours) – Covers the proper selection, installation and set-up of brake controls, weight distribution kit, sway controls and fifth wheel hitching systems.

Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Some of those dates are a long ways away. Why should I decide now?”

The answer is simple: Planning one of these events is a complicated endeavor. First, the venue has to be reserved and a non-refundable deposit placed to secure it. Instructors need to ensure enough equipment is shipped to the location so each technician can have a hands-on experience. Training information must be printed. Instructors’ flights must be booked and hotel rooms reserved. None of these can be done last minute.

Without registrations placed well in advance, it’s just too costly to put all that in place if the registrations don’t happen.

I’ll quote Hopkins here to put this in perspective: “For the tactical learner (hands-on RV technician) this is the best training there is, period! It’s also the most expensive training to implement.”

Keep in mind that registering your employees early doesn’t lock you in. You can receive a full refund for the registration as long as you cancel one week prior to the event. This makes the risk minimal if something comes up where the employee can’t make it.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 7,540 RV technicians working in our industry. That seems a little low to me, but I’ve learned that arguing with the government is an exercise in futility. Each of the three remaining Trouble Shooter Clinics in 2013 has a total of 180 spots. Surely we can fill those and secure this program’s future for technicians who will join our industry in years to come. We really are helping ourselves by getting our people training.

Here’s my challenge to RV business owners who have a repair facility: Look over your staff and choose just one employee who could benefit from the training in one of the tracks. Bite the bullet. Send them to a clinic.

Not only will you be helping support something that would be a terrible loss if it went away, you will be investing in your employee’s productivity, and ultimately your own bottom line. The old adage, “You can lead a horse to water…” comes to mind.

For more information on upcoming clinics visit http://www.rvia.org/?ESID=tsclinics, or call Nancy Jo Bell-London at 703-620-6003, ext. 355.