By Bob “Hot Rod” Rohr
I am at a point in my career where I can talk somewhat knowledgeably about training. I spent the first 15 or so years of my career struggling for the legal tender like many small shop owners. Training then pretty much involved time off from the day-to-day workload to travel somewhere for an organized training opportunity. This involved a day of missed income, so the choice to attend often came down to the last minute. If the phone is ringing off the hook, loyal customers with no heat, or plugged sewer calls, it’s tough to leave it behind for the day. Even if you do leave it behind, your mind is on all those calls, and trying to troubleshoot in your head what may be wrong. So, in the classroom you may not be 100 per cent engaged in the presentation. At least that is what I experienced.
Additionally, you must consider the cost involved in the training event and the lost revenue, multiplied by how many members of your company are along for the day. Yes, I know this expense should be built into the cost of doing business. That training cost dollar amount or percentage should be shared by all your customers. Writing the actual check, however, is always frightful. What if the class fails to deliver? I will say that the manufacturers aim to make the access to training affordable, so they can recoup the costs on your future purchases.
Suppliers offer training for the same reason. And they want you to know how to safely use and benefit from their product offerings. The cost they incur with returned or misapplied components needs to be accounted for, and training is one way to reduce those costs.
I’ve learned by being a trainer for the past decade and a half, and travelling with reps across Canada and the U.S., that there is a training opportunity pretty much every week somewhere, on some product. And don’t forget other trainings such as business development, sales and marketing, insurance, business in the COVID years, and so on.
Like most attendees, I’m biased towards the hands-on actual product application types of training. I am not a huge fan of cutting out a day for training that turns into mainly a sales spiel about a product or brand. It may be tough to know that when you sign up. So, ask others who have attended before you about the content and presentation of the class. Avoid training that turns into a bait and switch trick. Certainly, some of that comes from the management or marketing team at the company. Selling product is what keeps the door open.
The actual trainer has a large part in the content or direction of the class. If the trainer’s background is that of a technician, if he or she is an actual wrench puller, the presentation tends to take the path of his or her past experiences. If you have a room full of technicians, plumbers, HVAC folks that are the doers, they see through the imposters quickly. A good trainer can quickly switch gears and adjust the presentation to the needs or wants of the group. Remember that everyone in the room may not be expecting the same information.
The need for training never ends. It can’t because boilers, heat pumps, and automation systems are getting complicated and becoming increasingly high tech. Gone or going away for the most part are capillary tube controls, and relays that you can actually see, identify and watch in action. In some cases, the entire control is in a sealed module, intended to be replaced, not opened and serviced. So not only the knowledge, but the proper tools and meters to begin the troubleshooting procedure have shifted dramatically in the electronic age and continue to do so.
Something for everyone
As to where training takes place, manufacturers continue to offer training sessions at their facilities. Many will include a shop tour allowing you to see where the sausage is made, and meet some of the folks who build the components.
Training opportunities are always on the road somewhere. Manufacturers try to lay out a schedule well in advance to allow you to better schedule convenient classes. If you like to travel, the “A” ticket is a trip to somewhere nice, like Italy for example, for a plant tour, training event, site seeing, and dining experiences.
The biggest change in our world, in my lifetime anyway, is the use of the internet. Online training offerings are everywhere, provided by most industry stakeholders. You may choose to attend webinars in real time or click in later to the archive and watch when time allows, or digest in bits and pieces. Hybrid online training is one of my favourites. An instructor may be in front of a piece of equipment and the attendees are encouraged to participate in the process. Talk the trainer through a troubleshoot for example. They are your hands connected virtually to your brain.
At the end of the day, or article, here are my thoughts. Always challenge yourself and your team to advance your knowledge through training events. Find a comfortable mix. Attend the live events to stay sane, and to meet and greet other humans face to face. But also embrace the online experience. From the trainer’s side, we can get in front of hundreds, even thousands, of people with an online event. That is virtually impossible with a live event.
Put together your own training schedule. Most manufacturers are happy to arrive at your shop with a class tailored to your needs. These are my favourite events. I love to spend an hour or so with as many of the company’s team as possible. We get to know each other and the wants and needs we each have. The experience I gain as a trainer helps me adjust constantly to what is the best information I can share. Plus, I like checking out the service vehicles you all have.
Let the trainer know what clicks for you and what wastes your time. A trainer should be able to read the crowd and know when they are hitting the right buttons, but don’t be afraid to guide them.
Let customers know through marketing and on your vehicles that you are trained or certified on the products you sell and install. Brag about your company’s dedication to ongoing training. The mechanics at car dealers are good at this. Plaques on the wall and badges on their work shirts proudly share their training accomplishments. As a lifelong learner and seasoned trainer, I encourage you to continually expand your education. It won’t be long before you may be at the front of the classroom.