No technician left behind
Mark Schultz, who is the quality assurance and training manager for fleet maintenance in Richmond, Va., believes in the benefits of knowledge-based testing to help evaluate on-the-job performance and to establish professional standards for his medium- and heavy-duty truck technicians. Schultz and a number of other fleet managers require their technicians to take tests devised and administered by the Leesburg, Va.-based National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).
The tests are designed to evaluate the technician’s ability to diagnose, service and repair systems on medium- and heavy-duty (Class 4 through 8) trucks and tractors. The certification tests cover eight maintenance and repair categories: gasoline engines; diesel engines; drive trains; brakes; suspension and steering; electrical/electronic systems; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; and preventive maintenance inspection.
But can such testing make a better technician? Schultz thinks it does. “The ASE questions are continually upgraded, so, as technology changes, the questions change, and, therefore, they challenge the technicians to stay better prepared in their career field,” he says. “It prevents them from becoming stagnant. We have used [the tests] for close to four years.”
Randy Lawson, a fleet supervisor for Colorado Springs, Colo., says that having ASE-certified technicians makes his entire operation look more professional. “We’ve got all the plaques hanging where everybody can see them [so that] the city employees can see that our guys are capable of doing the work.”
Testing also helps morale, say some officials. “They can respect one another,” says Claude Edwards, municipal fleet superintendent in Santa Clara, Calif., “and they share information with one another. There’s more camaraderie. They’ve taken the tests and proven they have the ability to do the job.”
There are other benefits to ASE certification, too. “It gives [the mechanics] some credibility,” Edwards says. “If a mechanic works here for 10 years and goes somewhere else, what does he have to prove that he’s a mechanic or what his specialties are? So we worked with the union to make the tests part of the job spec.”
The tests are well received by local government officials, according to Chuck Roberts, ASE executive director for industry relations. “[The tests are] primarily to show their constituents — the taxpayers — the value that they’re getting for the dollar and also to demonstrate that same kind of value to the council members, boards of supervisors or elders that are controlling the purse strings,” he says.
A battery of tests
To earn ASE certification, a technician must pass one or more of the truck exams and present proof of at least two years of relevant work experience. To become a certified master technician in medium- and heavy-duty trucks, a mechanic must pass seven of the eight maintenance and repair tests in the series.
Technicians may substitute two years of relevant formal training for up to one year of the work experience requirement. To remain certified, truck technicians must be re-tested every five years to ensure that the technicians keep up with the latest developments in technology, according to ASE. Three certification exams are available that focus on the installation and repair of truck equipment, electrical/electronic systems and auxiliary powers systems that are added onto a vehicle.
“I take eight exams myself,” Schultz says. The city manager takes the tests as well, he adds. “We are very serious about training and about ASEs.” In yearly performance evaluations, a technician’s performance on certification exams is taken into account, according to Schultz.
Accessible and inexpensive
The truck tests are offered every May and November at more than 700 locations, such as community colleges, around the nation. The fees are $31 per person for registration and $24 for each test. Many fleet managers reimburse technicians who pass the tests.
The exams consist of 40 to 65 multiple-choice questions. Each test may include as many as 10 additional questions that are not figured into test scores but are used for statistical research. The questions are written and approved by a cross-section of industry experts, including working truck equipment technicians, truck equipment manufacturers and distributors, and technical service and training representatives from the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based National Truck Equipment Association.
The non-profit ASE was founded in 1972 to improve the quality of automobile and automotive truck service and repair through voluntary technician testing and certification. More than 400,000 automobile and truck technicians hold current certifications, according to ASE. The organization also conducts a Blue Seal of Excellence Recognition Program, which requires at least 75 percent of a shop’s technicians to have one or more ASE certifications.
There are approximately 111 Blue Seal shops or facilities — including Richmond’s — that categorize themselves as “Government/Civil Service.” “We’re only the fourth municipality in Virginia to receive that award,” Schultz says. “It lets the residents of Richmond know that the equipment that their tax dollars pay for is well maintained.”
Stephen Bennett, a freelance writer in New Milford, Conn.