In March of 2009, the City of Burbank's Public Works Fleet Services department applied for the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence, only to receive a letter one month later stating it did not qualify.
The ASE program has very rigorous criteria; to obtain the Blue Seal, at least 75 percent of technicians in a given repair shop must be certified. And, each area of service offered at the shop must be covered by at least one ASE-certified professional. As of April 2009, Burbank needed five more certifications to be eligible, according to the City's Public Works Fleet Superintendent, David Rodriguez.
Therefore, a few technicians on the Burbank team stepped up to the plate to take on the responsibility of completing the final certifications.
Included in that handful was Johnny Stein, a dealership technician with 20 years of mechanic experience - 10 years at a dealership and another 10 years at independent shops - under his belt. He came to Burbank with an ASE masters certification for Automobile and Light Trucks (A series) in addition to the Advanced Engine Performance Specialist certification (L1).
"Right after I started here, I also got the four other required truck ASEs - we all pitched in as a team to try and finish off all of the certifications that we needed for the Blue Seal," Stein said. "It's a lot to study for, and a lot of the information varies," Stein said.
Each test contains an average of 40-70 multiple choice questions that measure knowledge through practice problems encountered in day-to-day work situations.
"I usually like to start studying for the testing about a month or two months out, and I study usually during our breaks here at work and at lunchtime," Stein said. "Then I'll go home and dedicate at least one hour per night the month before the testing."
ASE offers testing only twice a year, and it is priced anywhere between $30-60 per test plus a $36 registration fee. Stein's total cost landed around $190 - most of it reimbursed by Burbank's fleet department.
Rex Richardson, also a technician for the City of Burbank, volunteered to obtain more ASE certifications to qualify the repair shop. Similar to Stein, he already had a light-duty master certification, but wanted to learn more about the heavy-duty realm. After passing the basic heavy-duty certification test, he continued on to receive his master certification as well.
"I found out I was working on some heavy-duty things, and that's when I started getting interested in the ASE master [certification] in it," Richardson said. "It gave me a lot of education actually. Even though you think you know a lot, you will pick up a lot from reading that book and studying the testing materials - it's a really good program."
The City of Burbank's Public Works Fleet Services department repairs a diverse range of conventional and alternative-fuel vehicles, and has about 600 pieces of equipment in-house. The shop is divided into four main sections - police, light-duty, refuse, and heavy-duty. According to Rodriguez, there are many business benefits from having technicians with a broad knowledge base from testing for the ASE certifications.
"If one section is slow and the other section needs help, we have the capability of moving people around, and they will have the knowledge to work on different types of vehicles," Rodriquez said. "The driving force behind getting certified is to show our customers that when they bring their vehicle to our shop, they're being repaired by certified professionals. Hopefully it will give them an added sense of comfort and confidence in our repairs."
The technician to take the last test that finally qualified the City of Burbank's fleet department for ASE's Blue Seal of Excellence was Chris Whitney. He took the H5 exam, which tests a technician's knowledge in suspension and steering for transit buses.
Whitney came from a Ford dealership and had performed everything from heavy line engine transmissions to tune-up diagnoses and repairs on cars and trucks. However, it wasn't until he came to Burbank that he had to deal with large-scale transit vehicles.
"I think it's very crucial that you're open-minded about everything that you work on here in the city," Whitney said. "Everybody is a team here, so you want to be able to try to back up other technicians if they get overloaded in another department."
He took the ASE tests not only to help qualify his repair shop for the Blue Seal of Excellence, but also to gain a stronger personal skill set.
"It takes a lot of studying and a lot of preparation to make sure you pass tests like these ones," said Whitney. "But it's worth it."
After earning the outstanding certifications and reapplying to ASE, The City of Burbank's Public Works Fleet department was recognized with the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence in October. The City of Burbank is one of 24 public sector fleets within 300 miles that have attained this recognition.
Becoming ASE certified functions as a great source of inspiration to the shop's employees. Currently 100 percent of the shop's 13 technicians are ASE certified, four of whom are double-master certified, while seven are master technicians. Whitney holds a master certification in light-duty maintenance and seven certifications in heavy-duty. Since becoming Blue-Seal recognized, Stein earned another four certifications, becoming double-master ASE-certified. Techs altogether hold 123 ASE certifications.
According to Rodriquez, the repair shop plans to proudly display the official ASE banner on its storefront window in addition to creating a wall to hang the technicians' certifications.
"We want our customers to see these certifications," said Rodriguez. "Everyone worked hard, and we want to make our customers feel more comfortable and confident in us."