Every day, semi-trucks are traveling from coast to coast to deliver goods. According to the American Trucking Association, trucks transport roughly 71% of the nation’s freight by weight. Without trucks, we wouldn’t get the necessities we need to live our daily lives. And, without the heavy-duty techs who work on these trucks, we’d be in trouble.
The trucks our grandparents were driving and working on are not the trucks of today. More and more technology is being integrated into the daily functions of fleets, from the electric components of the truck to the diagnostics necessary to service them. What that means is that heavy-duty technicians need to know even more about how to service these increasingly complex vehicles.
At the forefront of the changing heavy-duty landscape is Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC)’s new Center for Advanced Manufacturing.
Located in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Center for Advanced Manufacturing, known as CAM, is a 37-acre site built adjacent to GTCC’s Jamestown Campus. A former Daimler Bus warehouse, the building was renovated into a state-of-the-art manufacturing training center that houses the college’s transportation, welding and computer integrated machining programs.
CAM’s three growing programs will help prepare students to meet the needs of local companies, getting students to work right after graduation.
“I make a commitment every year to all my students: I will give all my students an opportunity to get a career from this, and this is a movement toward it right now,” says Bill Yokley, instructor of the Diesel and Heavy Equipment Technology program.
BUILDING THE FOUNDATION
The Diesel and Heavy Equipment Technology program’s move to the new facility has almost doubled the program’s current capacity. The spacious shop features seven bays as well as state-of-the-art training aids, equipment and diagnostic tools. It also has a pretty fitting nickname: the Garage Mahal.
The program is also on trend with virtual training to prep students for a career where they will have to know a lot about diagnostics and electrical work on various models of trucks.
“The changes on the trucks now and the changes in the technology is unreal,” says Yokley. “They have to know the cutting-edge technology when they leave here.”
In just one year, the Diesel and Heavy Equipment students will be completely versed in both the mechanical basis of trucks, as well as the technological advances such as electrical and diagnostic work. The program also requires students to start buying their tools through tool discounts to make sure they have the right tools for the job. In addition, “employability skills” are part of the final grade, which includes not using cell phones in class, being on time, having good attendance and basically acting professional, as if you were in a shop environment.
From the program, students have gone on to work at OEMs like Volvo and Freightliner, as well as mom and pop shops. Getting students into a job is a top priority.
“A lot of times, I’ll go visit the shops and when I go to the shop I’ll see a number of students. I have students who are hiring my students now,” says Yokley. “I have a number of companies that call me and say ‘What you got. I need three.’ It’s tremendous, and I can place any one of these students anytime.”
Even before a job placement, students have the opportunity to work with employers through a work program, and in the shop. Often, companies will supply the school with trucks to help practice proper diagnosis and repair.
Many students in the program already have their eyes on jobs when coming into the program. Student Jackson Aydelette, who is also in the welding program, plans to use his diesel skills to work for Caterpillar.
“I already had a basic knowledge of motors (etc.), but everything on these things is oversized. The tools are bigger, the heads are bigger; it’s just everything is basically bigger. So, it’s just learning how to take a truck, fix it efficiently and get it back out on the roads so they can start making money again,” says Aydelette.
Other students plan on taking a more traditional approach with their education.
“I grew up around diesel trucks, and it’s a huge part of our country so the work is always going to be there,” says student Jackson Garner. “It’s really, just how far you want to take it. The technology is advancing every day, so that’s made me want to go to school and learn more about it, versus just going out there.”
Although the program is only a year long, it’s a long year of intense training that Yokley says would take about five years to learn on the job. The students who take the program are truly invested in becoming technicians for both a career, and because they enjoy it.
“Instead of being in a workplace where I don’t like it, and I’m bored all day, and I hate my job, I’d rather work somewhere where I’m going to love it and want to do it every day and have fun doing it,” says student Carson Davis. “So I’m really not at work, it’s more of just doing something I like doing.”
With the many changes in today’s trucks, having the right tools and relationships is key to coming out of the program with knowledge of these complex systems.
Virtual training in all aspects of fleet management and maintenance is the new way to train heavy-duty technicians. Noregon, a company that provides commercial vehicle diagnostics, repair and data analytic solutions, is doing just that and is partnering with GTCC to bring that training to its students.
Noregon’s in-shop diagnostic and repair solution, JPRO Professional, includes major virtual features such as an education portal, a virtual truck for hands-on learning and increased bi-directional tests. In partnership with GTCC, Noregon is putting JPRO in the hands of heavy-duty students to use in the classroom through its Education Program.
“We partner with diesel programs to ensure technicians are highly employable when they enter the workforce, and prepared to manage the real-life situations they are about to face,” says Tim Bigwood, CEO of Noregon. “We want to ensure the same tools used by major fleets and service centers are the tools available to students in the classroom.”
Using Noregon’s Virtual Truck, students can virtually work on trucks to hone their skills and troubleshoot. The Virtual Truck feature can simulate the regen, or other bi-directional tests, without the limitations or liability concerns of performing them on a real truck.
“Because JPRO is an all makes, models and components solution, the application presents the same interface and experience, regardless of which brand of vehicle the user is connected to,” adds Jason Hedman, JPRO product manager for Noregon. “By using the virtual truck as a training tool, users have a repeatable, controlled environment to prepare for a situation commonly experienced in the field.”
Using the new educational portal, GTCC students have access to an extensive library of training videos, sorted by topic, where users can learn the intricacies of the software when needed. Additionally, the portal also includes four training webinars a month, where students can ask a Noregon product expert their questions.
“If a student learns JPRO in the classroom by using the Virtual Truck,” Hedman continues, “he or she can be prepared to walk into the shop at any heavy-duty dealership with the skills needed to diagnose, troubleshoot and repair any vehicle brand.”
Noregon also offers students JPRO Certification, scholarship opportunities and student pricing after graduation. Once certified, students earn uniform patches to display their proficiency and assure employers they are properly trained and qualified.
“Given the current shortage of technicians, it’s more important than ever for technicians to have the right resources and training,” says Noregon’s Bigwood. “JPRO provides ongoing training during use to improve technicians’ skillsets. By teaching and guiding the technician during the diagnosis or repair process, he or she will be empowered to expedite the process when a similar issue arises in the future.”
“You may bring a truck in here to do the brakes on it, but you’re going to have to do a check on it to see what diagnostic codes come up,” adds Yokely. “It’s a different world. It ain’t grandpa’s truck no more. It’s gone past grandpa now.”