In the early 1990s, equipment managers at the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) recognized two critical realities: equipment and vehicle technologies were growing increasingly complex, and downsizing had become a way of life in the public sector.

To meet these challenges, VDOT’s state equipment manager, Erle Potter, PE, CEM, zeroed in on technician training. The solution was an innovative statewide, needs-based training program that earned Potter, a 35-year fleet veteran, national recognition and the Larry Goill Award for Quality Fleet Management Ideas, sponsored by the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) and Bell Canada.

The TRUCKS program stands for Training Rewards Us with Competencies, Knowledge, and Skills. Representatives from each VDOT district form the TRUCKS team, which serves as an advisory committee to Potter on training issues. Meeting quarterly, the team identifies essential equipment repair functions in VDOT shops and determines the knowledge and skill levels necessary to perform those functions. The levels become training targets in the VDOT Equipment Repair Technician Training Program. The TRUCKS team sets training priorities, reviews program progress, and recommends program management improvements.

Development was Evolutionary
“The development of TRUCKS was evolutionary and involved several steps,” Potter said. He obtained support of all VDOT equipment managers. Training alternatives were researched and ideas were prioritized. The concept was to start small and ramp up based on needs, affordability, and initiative success.

Potter identified and prioritized needs, researched options, developed plans, obtained funding, and designed and scheduled training elements.

Since the program began in 1995, more than 50 training courses have been established and approximately 10,000 sessions have been conducted. The number of technicians certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) has grown from 300 to more than 3,000, with 371 employees holding at least one certification. All managers also hold professional certifications. {+PAGEBREAK+}

Three Course Levels Offered
Equipment training coordinators from each VDOT district carefully plan the TRUCKS training schedule. A statewide schedule is developed, and training records are maintained on each VDOT technician. The courses fall into three major categories:

  1. Core skills training. Three knowledge and skills training course levels — developmental, intermediate, and advanced — are taught at community colleges, technical schools, and private automotive technology training companies.
  2. Factory training. Manufacturer representatives provide maintenance and repair techniques for specific equipment.
  3. Certification training. Technicians prepare for national or state certification in critical automotive maintenance functions.

Costs Balanced by Benefits
TRUCKS program costs grew over the years. Initial nominal expenses were indirect costs of employee time spent in research and design, said Potter. Early-year implementation costs were modest, but increased at a steady rate over time, based on demonstrated successes and continuing and evolving needs. The 2006 TRUCKS budget includes nearly $900,000 for training development, delivery, and evaluation.

For all its costs, the TRUCKS program has produced plenty of benefits.

  1. Reduced fleet downtime with operational-ready rates sustained at above 90-percent statewide.
  2. More than 95 percent of PM performed on time statewide.
  3. Across-the-board reductions in individual repair rates.
  4. Dramatically decreased diagnostic and component repair times.
  5. High customer approval ratings for technician, maintenance, and repair service quality and efficiency.

“In spite of technician staffing levels that have been reduced by almost 15 percent and the closure of five maintenance shops, performance data has improved in all areas,” Potter noted.