How top dealers handle employee training

Providing employees with the right training is important to the success of all facets of a dealership – from technicians to receptionists and new hires to seasoned vets. Fortunately, dealerships can take advantage of many types of training offered by OEMs, vendors, associations and other sources.

Many dealers, such as Peach State Truck Centers, use learning management systems (LMS) to assist in training employees. The LMS ties directly to the company’s HR/payroll system and provides a platform to develop, house and track company training modules, says Bill Garrett, director of human resources. The LMS came with prepared general training materials, but much of the training wasn’t applicable to the dealership, according to Garrett.

“When it came to how to do our jobs, onboarding into our organization and how to address safety issues inside our business, we weren’t finding anything,” he says. The company learned that putting in the time, energy and resources to develop training specifically for the people and positions at the dealership was worth the cost.

While developing job-specific content for the LMS is ongoing, Peach State decided to start at the beginning by providing comprehensive onboarding and training for new hires. This includes videos about the organization’s mission and values, workplace safety and sexual harassment, among others, as well as checklists, handouts and quizzes all housed within the LMS. Organizing the modules within the LMS enables HR to monitor how employees are progressing in their required training.

“We know that if you’re not integrating new employees into the organization in the proper manner, the later training was not going to be nearly as effective,” Garrett says. “Every new employee is getting the same consistent message and the quicker they’re integrated into the company culture, the quicker they become productive and the longer they’ll stay with the company.”

Garrett says the dealership has developed leadership training for supervisors and currently is working on cashier training content to teach, for example, how to greet customers and process checks. Curricula for warehouse personnel and inside parts sales also are in development and training for new and used truck sales people, such as how to close a sale, will soon follow.

“[The LMS] is a living system. You really have to continuously update the content to keep pace with changing policies and regulations, new job duties and newly created positions,” Garrett says.

Back to class

Using classroom learning to complement web-based, interactive courses is important to Kenworth of Louisiana, says Jude Becnel, vice president of operations.

“We still have to send [staff] to classes to complete various certifications,” he says, adding that “classroom training is still very crucial to their development and the interaction and networking cannot be replaced by web courses.”

Kenworth of Louisiana relies on courses provided by the American Truck Dealers (ATD) to develop managers, technicians, parts counter staff, sales and accounting. “[ATD] provides many online and hands-on classes that are exceptional to develop our staff. Many of the courses are not only product knowledge, they also include modules on customer service and sales,” Becnel says.

The dealership also takes advantage of training programs offered by its OEM and vendor partners. Parts and service employees have assigned training tracks that must be completed within a certain timeframe.

“Many of our vendors offer brake, clutch and A/C training classes, for example, and we lean on [our staff] pretty hard to keep up with that technology,” Becnel says. “Kenworth, and its suppliers Paccar engine, Cummins, Meritor, Eaton and Bendix, are all providing certification training. Each offers online modules, but the actual certifications are onsite where techs have to demonstrate hands-on repairs to be fully certified.”

OEMs as a training resource

Peach State Truck Centers also leans heavily on its OEM partner, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), for most of its training, says Ron Yeary, senior training instructor, who along with two full-time trainers handles training for the dealership’s approximately 170 technicians throughout 10 locations. “Our full-time trainers and I do nothing but keep technicians up to date on the latest technology,” he says.

Technicians start with web-based systems certification, which serves as an introduction to everything they will learn in-depth during instructor-led classes. Technicians work with a mentor until they pass the systems certification stage and earn their professional level certification.

At the professional level, technicians attend classes learning about the various systems on a truck, including engine, transmission, axles, brakes, suspension, HVAC and electrical, among other systems and components. Technicians also learn about and can earn certifications for the Freightliner Cascadia, the Freightliner M2 medium-duty truck and Western Star vehicles — as well as vehicle/engine and powertrain certifications.

From the introductory web-based training to completing expert certification can take a technician two to three years, Yeary says. “It’s very extensive”

Similarly, Navistar provides training on service, parts and sales to its International dealerships, primarily via the internet, but also at a Navistar training facility. Navistar also uses mobile education units — an expandable trailer that opens up into a classroom – to bring training directly to its dealers.

For example, many parts sales are brake-related, so field trainers will go to the dealerships to provide in-person, product-specific training. Navistar also uses the mobile unit to teach dealer sales representatives about new products, such as the A26 engine.

“Navistar invests a lot of money in training, not only to keep up with changes in products, but also the new products Navistar releases,” says John Pfennig, Navistar director, global development. Pfennig is in charge of the service side of the business, which involves training technicians.

Using web-based training, technicians start with a series of basic courses to establish a foundation, such as how to look up service information and how to use Navistar’s diagnostic tools. The courses become more in-depth and are broken down by systems, including engine, transmission, axle, air brakes, hydraulic brakes and electrical.

“Then we offer advanced diagnostic training and we focus on three major categories: engine, electrical and HVAC. Those are hands-on classes; the technician has to come to a Navistar training facility for those. The training is about 20 percent classroom and 80 percent hands-on,” Pfennig says.

In addition to the training Navistar provides, the company has agreements with its major component suppliers, such as Cummins, Eaton and Allison, and dealerships go directly to them for training.

Through additional training by Navistar, technicians can earn distinctions like certification in a particular product or category, a master level and a Diamond-certified level, which requires technicians to be master certified and hold an ASE credential in the U.S. or a provincial license in Canada, Pfennig says. He adds Navistar acknowledges all of its Diamond-certified technicians and gives them an opportunity to win awards at the company’s annual National Technician Rodeo.

Volvo Trucks North America provides learning opportunities through Volvo Trucks Academy. It isn’t required, but most dealerships take advantage of the resource, says Academy Director Matt Flynn. He says Volvo Trucks Academy provides four development programs, the talent pipeline, dealer performance, customer performance and competitions.

The talent pipeline supplies Volvo dealerships with a pool of highly qualified and ready-to-work prospective technicians by providing students specialized training on Volvo trucks through the Diesel Advanced Technology Education (DATE) Program.

The dealer performance program provides development paths for sales, parts, service, warranty, technical and management personnel through instructor-led training, virtual training, online training and short performance videos. These programs are designed to teach best practices to staff throughout a dealership to “bring value to truck buyers,” according to Volvo.

Additionally, Volvo Trucks Academy supports learning and development through competition for dealership technicians and parts and service personnel through the VISTA (Volvo International Service Training Award) world competition, which is open to service professionals within the Volvo Trucks and Volvo Buses global network.

However they approach training, successful dealers understand that the learning never stops as suppliers continually introduce new products, modify existing ones, and deal with changing regulations. These changes mean additional training and, sometimes, updated certification for dealership staffers to stay on top of their game.

“Our goal is to have long-term, well-rounded teams in our dealerships in all departments,” Peach State’s Garret says. “Employee training and development leads to higher retention.” Amd ultimately that means happier customers.