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NASTF VISION2013 helps close the tech gap

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The National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) recently conducted VISION2013 at the 2013 Spring NASTF General Meeting in Overland Park, Kan., on March 8, when four OEM executives and five aftermarket experts took steps to improve tech education.

Kelly Geist, service engineering manager for Subaru of America Inc.; Mark Saxonberg, service technology manager for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.; Bob Stewart, aftermarket service support for General Motors and Jim Von Ehr, manager, technical information and serviceability of Nissan North America Inc., each offered insight into their service department business models.

Saxonburg explained “the availability of service information doesn’t, itself, make a tech service-ready.” He listed five additional resources as necessary: factory diagnostic functions, product knowledge, tech assistance support, factory parts options and a commitment to learning.

Stewart extolled the benefits of GM’s long-term strategy in technician development demonstrated in GM’s Automotive Service Education Program (ASEP), which is a partnership with their franchise dealer spanning from high school through a tech’s working career.

Geist described Subaru’s requirement of minimum tool investments from Toughbook laptops to some 400 special tools costing about $50,000.

“We roll out about 20 new special tools a year and they are shipped automatically to our franchise dealers,” revealed Geist.

Von Ehr described the Nissan Minimum Service Training Requirements (MSTR) and showed their positive correlation to the F-1 scores (Fixed Right the First Time Score) for Nissan dealers. In closing, Von Ehr argued our industry needs more than just highly-qualified techs.

“We need more techs at all levels,” he said. “With the right training requirements in place, we’ll get more highly-qualified techs from that larger pool of techs.”

Bob Augustine of Christian Brothers Automotive, Bob Beckmann of Beckmann Technologies, Aaron Cherrington of Identifix, Jeff Minter of Madison Technical College and Rusty Savignac of Paxton Garage followed the OEM Roundtable and dug deeper into solutions for closing the service-readiness gap among independent shops.

“It’s harder today to fit all the necessary training into just a two-year college program,” said Minter. He’s concerned that education is too focused on pattern-failures and not enough depth in system understanding that would be useful in developing diagnostic skills.

Cherrington pointed out that today’s techs must be resourceful. “A 2010 Ford has about 11 million lines of software code,” he said. “A tech today must have information partners.”

Augustine encourages shops to develop a “training roadmap” with compensation incentives for higher skill levels.

Savignac, who operates Paxton Garage in Massachusetts, contends that independent shops must accept responsibility for turning tech school grads into qualified techs. “My two best techs came from post-secondary schools and got OJT, refined,” he explained.

Beckmann is a Euro-specialist and contracts to assist shops with service in advanced systems not yet mastered in their shop. “One difference that separates troubled [shops] from successful [shops] is their attitude towards asking for help,” noted Beckmann. “The successful will reach out for help quickly.”

“NASTF, too, needs to reach out,” said Skip Potter, NASTF executive director announcing his recent membership in the Automotive Training Manager’s Council (ATMC).

“It is NASTF’s strategy to engage with them to efficiently and effectively close the education component of the service-readiness gap. In fact, we seek partnerships with any industry organization that has the existing mandate and resources to help close the gaps between dealership and independent capabilities.”

The slides for the two panel discussions may be viewed from the NASTF website at

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