OEMs and aftermarket need ‘bridge’ to connect education, training resources
Las Vegas—When it comes to OEMs sharing information and education resources that is pertinent to the aftermarket, it’s not ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ it’s everyone together: the independent technician, automakers and all those in between working together for the satisfied customer, no matter how old their vehicle or where they choose to have it serviced.
It’s a gap that needs to be bridged, said Skip Potter, executive director of National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), during its Fall General Meeting in Las Vegas at Industry Week in Las Vegas.
“At the beginning of NASTF, technicians had certain expectations and thought they were trying to access automakers’ information one way, while on the other side of the ‘river,’ automakers were attempting to build bridges for their service information another way. The two parties never discussed the issues.
“So they successfully built two half bridges that didn’t meet in the middle. Now we have a similar situation with education.”
Potter moderated the meeting’s featured event, a panel discussion, “Aftermarket Access to OEM Education Resources,” which involved representatives from OEM, independent service and repair, and aftermarket training and education.
Bill Moss, owner of Euro Service Automotive, in Virginia, said OEM resources need to be available so technicians can grow their careers in addition to what they’ve learned through work experience and school. He added, however, a technician’s continuous career education is not the OEMs’ responsibility.
“OEMs’ responsibilities are to their vehicles and systems specific to their product for technicians,” he said. “The primary obligation technicians have is to be ‘service ready,’ and to be prepared through tooling and education.”
Toyota provides its dealership technicians with a “training roadmap” based on certification so they can continue to grow their education, said Jill Saunders, product engineer for Toyota Motor Sales USA.
This methodology differs from independent technician training in that they often don’t have a structured training path, but learn systems on an as-needed basis, Potter said. “There’s a disconnect in the way automakers design their education systems for the dealerships and the way an independent tech is going to use it.”
Moss added that the independents are often consumed with problem solving. “You can be relatively service ready — or think that you are — until a vehicle enters a bay that presents an out-of-the-box challenge or is on the edge of your service readiness, which demands searching for information, which isn’t an education path, but becomes solution-based training. That’s a different animal that’s not in any course or program.”
At the same time, OEMs present much value in their training offerings, though it is “digested” differently in the aftermarket, said Rob Morrell, training manager for WORLDPAC. Providing a training roadmap for independent repair technicians, however, could be a challenging proposition in that there are a variety of shops with different business models, from general repair to brand specialization.
“Acronyms and terminology are different from brand to brand, so the learning curve can be steep for such a wide variety, especially for general repair,” Morrell said. “Training can be more structured in some cases, but won’t be easy.”
The aftermarket is generally better at diagnostics, because they have to be, he said, while the OEMs are better at operations and procedures. “Being able to integrate those procedures into the aftermarket will also be to the benefit of the automakers as they will support the brand and customer satisfaction. It can work for everyone.”
Saunders added, “It’s important for Toyota to work with the aftermarket because they’re servicing our customers” and it builds brand loyalty.
Problems and barriers to success
OEM websites offer a significant source of information, but it’s “dangerous to think they’re going to be the problem-solving solution,” Moss said. “When a car comes in the bay that presents issues, a website is unlikely to have the answer. The answer is educating technicians about the full range of resources available, such as Youtube, as one example among many.”
OEM websites that get used most often are those that also provide phone and IT support to the aftermarket technician, though smaller automakers generally don’t have the resources and staff assigned for that, Morrell said. “If techs have one negative experience, they tend not to return.”
He suggested sites provide a “best practices” guideline that would delineate what is available on the free side of side of a website and what is on the pay side.
“It wouldn’t require any website restructuring, just a table of contents pages on a registration page listing what can be found inside the pay site,” Moss said. “Another ‘best practice’ would be to homogenize terminology among OEMs.”