|Training Day: STN Survey Shows Budget Woes are Trickling Down to Garages|
|Written by Ryan Gray|
|Monday, 02 March 2009 00:00|
School Transportation News set out to determine the current state of knowledge necessary for school bus maintenance staffs to remain abreast of changing and challenging bus chassis and body technology via the nationwide survey “School Transportation Maintenance Training.” More than 900 magazine subscribers were emailed six questions in January pertaining to what resources were utilized by their transportation departments to keep mechanics and technicians in the know. STN received a total of 142 responses, and the size of school bus fleets ranged from six vehicles to 9,887. The school districts and private operators that responded maintain anywhere from two other school district or “white fleet” vehicles to more than 3,000.
The most visible evolution in the garage over the past several years has been seen with the influx of laptop computers to replace more traditional tools in performing vehicle diagnostics and preventative maintenance. With newer buses that rely on multiplexing to control a host of chassis and onboard electronics, the technical make up and demographics of the actual garage staff has shifted, and there appear to be plenty of gaps in the training available.
Of 102 responses to the multiple-choice question on what gaps exist, nearly half said their district or bus company had no current budget for mechanic training, and 37 percent responded that “No training is available in my area.” Meanwhile, 28 percent said available training in their area didn’t fit their schedule, and nearly as many said available training didn’t match up with their specific needs. Other issues raised included a general lack of succession training to replace senior technicians who are approaching retirement age.
Higher demand for technicians who are better versed in the basics of vehicle electronics also leads to a premium placed on their services. But as schools cut back more and more on programs, and with historically low wages paid for all school transportation professionals, many respondents voiced a common frustration that their schools are unable to hire and retain well-trained technicians.
“School districts cannot pay the higher salary of outside companies,” commented Tom Chaffin, the transportation resource manager at Poudre School District, which serves Fort Collins and Larimer County in north central Colorado.
While there continues to be no easy answer for the age-old issue of low wages, whether they are for those working on the buses or those driving them, school transporters are basically doing the best they can to ensure their technicians receive all possible training. One problem can be if training is actually available in their area.
“[It is] learn as you go,” said one mechanic and school bus driver from rural New York. “We have no opportunity to get training; we have to train ourselves as best as we can. [The district] wants everything done on site with very little time and no training.”
But most of the time, technicians should be relying on the original equipment manufacturers, such as the vehicle OEMs and their dealers. The STN survey indicated that regular training available from school bus vehicle manufacturers and product vendors remain the two most utilized options. Of 107 responses to the question on what training sources school transportation departments take advantage of, 84 responded that they send technicians to vehicle manufacturer training workshops. And 82 said they regularly work with vendors on training topics.
“We have training that is built in with the bus bids that includes bus body, engine, ABS, multiplex systems and transmissions for all of our technicians,” commented David Gazaway, a transportation coordinator with the Cherokee County Board of Education north of Atlanta.
Like many other states, Georgia schools can ensure they get the training they need for new buses during the warranty time. And the state, Florida being another, also offers an annual school bus technician workshop.
Nearly 47 percent of survey respondents said their operations send technicians to state association training programs. Meanwhile, about 46 percent said they utilize training from the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE, which, at the behest of NAPT, developed school bus technician certification for maintenance professionals who pass the ASE School Bus Technician Test Series. The seven certification exams are: Body Systems and Special Equipment (S1), Diesel Engines (S2), Drive Train (S3), Brakes (S4), Suspension and Steering (S5), Electrical/Electronic Systems (S6), and Air Conditioning Systems and Controls (S7). Several of these tests parallel existing ASE Medium/Heavy Truck tests but are designed to test knowledge of systems that are specific to school buses. As of mid-January, 5,626 school bus maintenance professionals held the title of ASE-certified school bus technician, and there were 1,781 ASE master school bus technicians.
But the STN survey also indicated that only 6.5 percent responded that they use additional training opportunities available from NAPT, which for the past five years has offered its America’s Best School Bus Inspector and Technician skills training and competition. The event has grown to more than 20 states competing for the awards in 2009, and while they do so, they receive important training and networking opportunities.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2009 17:59|