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Training for School Bus Technicians PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Suiru   
Monday, 02 March 2009 00:00

Multiplexing, EMS, ABS, LEDs and hybrids are now part of the school bus technician’s lexicon, and the sophisticated technology keeps coming. For instance, model year 2010 heavy-duty diesel and gasoline engines, like cars and other light vehicles have for a couple of decades, are required to have onboard diagnostic (OBD) systems to monitor emission systems, alert drivers when faults are detected and store information to facilitate diagnosis and repair.

Electronic-intensive systems mean technicians today are as likely to be punching computer keys as turning wrenches. A shrinking pool of qualified technicians compounds the problem.

Mike Simmons, senior transportation manager for the Arkansas Department of Education, cites school districts’ low pay scales and higher pay from dealership and trucking companies as a big problem in recruitment and retention.

These new technologies require more than on-the-job training by more senior technicians as in years past. Now, younger, more computer literate technicians are teaching the old timers. Because of constantly advancing technology, training is life long. Fortunately, there are many sources for this training. According to David Anderson, director for transportation at Adams 12 Five Star Schools outside Denver, “If you spend the time to look, there are training classes all the time.”

The major school bus and engine manufacturers as well as many component suppliers offer technician training for districts purchasing their equipment. IC Corp. has its IC University, a one-week program held at the Tulsa Bus Plant. It covers maintenance, engines, electrical, power brakes, transmissions and even Braun and Ricon lifts.

IC dealers offer two- and three-day programs all over the United States and Canada covering engine, drive train and electrical troubleshooting. It also has the IC Training Bus, a cutaway version of the conventional Type C school bus for customer training. It is accompanied by a trainer to educate with real-life scenarios.

Thomas Built Buses has more than 40 factory-certified trainers available through its dealer network as well as a corporate trainer who travels nationally to meet customer training needs. Hands-on classes allow technicians to diagnose problems using conventional means as well as with a laptop computer. Meanwhile, Blue Bird Corporation provides comprehensive training at its plant in Fort Valley, Ga.

School bus vendors also get into the act. For example, Bendix and Webasto offer seminars on air brakes and heaters, respectively. The best part is the training is free to customers. Manufacturers are very important in assuring training includes up-to-date technology.

Several states have training workshops that last a few days or even for a week. Usually, held during the summer, these include the Texas Association for School Bus Technicians (www.tasbt.org), Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association (www.cspta.org), Ohio School Bus Mechanics Association (www.osbma.org) and Arkansas School Bus Mechanic Association ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). Representatives from bus manufacturers and component vendors are heavily involved.

Both Simmons and Anderson highly recommend the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s America’s Best Technician and Inspector Competition (www.napt.org). Training is a integral part of the program, again by manufacturers.

Rob Widener, vice president of the Ohio School Bus Mechanic’s Association and a mechanic for Greenville City Schools, notes that a significant impediment to training is cost. Shrinking budgets mean techs cannot attend the training they really need. Some techs pay for training themselves.

“It would be nice if training was more affordable for smaller schools.”

Adams 12’s Anderson says the school district “grows its own” with a successful student-apprenticeship program. Working with the high school automotive program and the U.S. Department of Labor Apprenticeship program, it has hired several students. The program lasts for four years, two in high school and two in college. The student obtains an associate’s degree and four years of experience on school buses. If there is a job opening, the apprentice could be hired by the district.

Many school districts are now running their buses on alternative fuels, compressed natural gas and biodiesel. For natural gas, the Natural Gas Vehicle Institute (www.ngvi.org) offers a number of training courses, forums and webinars. For example, there is the annual NGV Driver and Mechanic Safety Training covering safe driving, fueling and maintenance of today’s NGVs. Trainers will receive train the trainer instruction and all course materials and support software.

As for biodiesel, the National Biodiesel Board (www.biodiesel.org) is a good starting point for courses on this alternative fuel. As hybrid-electric school buses come into service, they bring some very new training requirements. Currently, their service, at least for the hybrid drive trains, is being handled by manufacturers and dealers, mainly to assure this new technology doesn’t get black marks because of poor or improper maintenance. This could change as hybrids gain acceptance. As with most technologies, in-house service often means less bus downtime and less cost when warranties run out.

While not a substitute for more formal training, courses on DVDs and on the Internet can help technicians come up to speed on new technologies. For example, IC Corp. offers a variety of training DVDs through IC dealers. Thomas Built offers an orientation DVD for the Saf-T-Liner C2, and maintenance tips in its Bus Report newsletter are available in print and online.

Finally, school districts needing qualified technicians might consider partnering with BusTechs (www.bustechs.com), which specializes in job placement for transportation maintenance employees and provides their services to school districts on a short- or long-term basis. BusTechs handles everything from recruiting and hiring of qualified personnel to matching them with a district’s specific requirements. As the technicians’ employer, they also handle benefits administration, payroll, workers’ compensation coverage, and the administrative details of employment.

Suiru is an automotive journalist based in Temecula, Calif.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2009 18:03