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March 06, 2012  |   Comments (2)   |   Post a comment

Skilled techs keep fleets top-notch

Pupil transporters say that technicians should have a desire to learn, and they discuss methods and resources for instruction. They also say that employee communication, a strong preventive maintenance program and performance benchmarking are essential to achieving well-maintained school buses.

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Technicians at Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore., undergo mentored training before working on buses by themselves.

Technicians at Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore., undergo mentored training before working on buses by themselves.

Of the many components that factor in to transporting students safely, having well-maintained school buses is one of the most important. What does it take to achieve a well-maintained fleet? A comprehensive preventive maintenance program (PM) is essential, but pupil transporters say that everything from employees’ attitudes and the training they receive to benchmarking performance also play a role in ensuring that buses are in top condition.

“You need to hire people who want to make a difference and have a positive attitude and a willingness to learn,” says Michael Burton, assistant transportation manager at Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore. “Mechanics need to understand that it’s about the students that we serve.”

Assess technicians’ abilities and train accordingly  
When it comes to training technicians, Burton says it’s important to look at an individual’s skill level, making sure that the technician is learning based on his level of training.

Cross-training between technicians is performed to help them develop their skills, and mentored training is performed when a new tech joins the team.

“We have a checklist with a variety of repairs so that we can make sure that they’re well-rounded before we send them out on their own,” adds David Farley, head mechanic at Salem-Keizer Public Schools. “It helps us assess their abilities, and therefore helps us determine what types of jobs we assign them to.”

New technicians at Volusia County Schools in Daytona Beach, Fla., are also paired with more experienced technicians until they understand the operation’s systems, and Assistant Director of Fleet and Finance William French, too, says a shop manager should evaluate the skill set of a technician, especially in the area of electronics, because if the technician is weak in fundamental electronics, it’s difficult to take on complex repairs.

“We use the Cummins ‘Basic Electronics Theory and Troubleshooting’ DVD series for this,” he says.

At Volusia County Schools in Daytona Beach, Fla., repair modifications are communicated among technicians at all of the shops to ensure that buses are repaired the same way.
<p>At Volusia County Schools in Daytona Beach, Fla., repair modifications are communicated among technicians at all of the shops to ensure that buses are repaired the same way.</p>

At Dean Transportation Inc. in Lansing, Mich., Director of Fleet Services Scott Pellerito says the company makes sure that all training topics for technicians encompass best practices, including safe and timely repairs to its vehicles. The company also surveys the employees to ensure that their needs in training are met.

“Technicians are monitored with the use of evaluations that measure work quality and personalized feedback,” he explains. “With this form of monitoring, specific topics are addressed with future training programs. The basic training used in the industry is also integrated, such as company safety programs, proper lifting techniques, first aid, basic firefighting, bloodborne pathogens and hazmat.”

To further boost safety, Dean Transportation requires that every technician maintain at least one ASE or state of Michigan mechanic certification in the area of heavy duty.

Resources for instruction
To bolster technicians’ knowledge and skills, many shops utilize the training offered by school bus manufacturers and suppliers of specific parts. Such is the case at North Kansas City (Mo.) Schools.

Shirley Patrick, director of transportation, says it’s important to develop solid relationships with vendors and also to stay current on what is available to assist in running an effective maintenance operation.

“A representative from the bus dealership visits our facility quarterly to share tips and offer new information to keep the mechanics current,” she adds.

French, Bob Duquette, shop foreman at Liverpool (N.Y.) Central School District, and Patrick Carney, transportation supervisor at Bedford (Ohio) County Schools, also recommend taking advantage of training opportunities through state pupil transportation organizations.

The New York Head Mechanics Association, www.nyhma.org, the Ohio School Bus Mechanics Association, www.osbma.org, and the Florida Association for Pupil Transportation, http://faptflorida.org, all offer such resources.

Courses at colleges and universities are another avenue through which technicians can grow their knowledge. Burton says Portland (Ore.) Community College offers several classes, while Pellerito says supervisory and management training courses are offered through the local community college, the University of Notre Dame and Michigan State University. (Dean Transportation’s lead technicians and fleet management personnel are subject to advanced training in certain areas to ensure that the needs of the company and industry standards are met.)

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Read more about: preventive maintenance

Staying current on new technology such as multiplexing and newer exhaust aftertreatment is key. I work for the number two contracter in the country and we really need to get people at the top who understand techs need training and that we need to standardize our fleets to one manufacturer as that would greatly improve down time and streamline our parts inventory. Sadly most senior management at these big bus companys have never stepped foot on a school bus.

Karl Graham    |    Mar 14, 2012 06:30 AM

Having held two ASE master certifications and a transit specilist certifications for years it has helped to keep yourself in check. You find out where your weak spots are with your knowledge and study more to become proficient. Just recently with a 444E computer replacement - would run on 6 cylinders no matter what. You could switch injectors around from a working cylinder and they would then not work. Come to find out International down loaded a program for a 466E into a 444E computer. Then the computer could not and would not re-flash to the correct program. This is a very rare issue but after all your knowledge and training you must have confidence in your abilities to diagnose electronics. With computer well over $1,000 a pop you can't afford to make mistakes. Just so you know study up on the new hybrid type vehicles and follow the warnings so as not to be electrocuted. This is a very serious field to work in automotive anymore. The more you know the better you'll be. Dan Luttrell, Bedford, IN.

Dan Luttrell    |    Mar 09, 2012 08:36 AM

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