by Jacques Gordon
At industry conventions I’ve attended over the past several years (MACS and others), the topic of technician training has come up frequently, especially in rooms filled with shop owners and technicians. Each time it comes up, the same opinion is repeated; entry level techs aren’t being taught the right skills. They come out of school with a lot of knowledge, but they’re not prepared to do the work that makes money for the shop and for themselves.
That should change soon.
For decades, the curriculum taught in most tech schools has been based on knowledge standards created by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). In 1982, ASE began setting standards for professional technicians, outlining what they should know and be able to do on specific automotive systems; brakes, air conditioning, engine performance, etc. Those knowledge standards are based almost entirely on input from techs, shop owners and engineers working in the service industry. While the knowledge is important in a working tech, it’s not necessarily focused on the skills a tech needs for working day-to-day a real-world shop.
Today, tech school curriculum is being determined by the National Automotive Technician’s Education Foundation (NATEF). Previously their role was to evaluate and update education standards to reflect the ASE exam task lists. But in 2011, NATEF took over the job of setting education standards. In July, 2012 they published a new model for technician education standards based on three levels of capability rather than on automotive systems: Maintenance & Light Repair (MLR), Automobile Service Technician (AST), and Master Automobile Service Technician (MAST). Each successive level includes all the tasks of the previous level plus additional tasks appropriate to the more advance certification.
This new model for secondary and post-secondary technician training program accreditation became effective on July 1, 2013. The standards document lists the things that an evaluation team has always inspected, like program administration, student services, the physical facility itself and much much more. What’s changed is the program instructional requirements. They still spell out things like the hours of classroom and lab/shop instructional activities required for each certification, but as you might expect, the specific tasks the student should learn to perform are more service-level oriented. For instance, under the Engine Repair task list for the Maintenance and Light Repair certification, the student should learn how to:
- Inspect, replace, and adjust drive belts, tensioners, and pulleys; check pulley and belt alignment.
- Remove, inspect, and replace thermostat and gasket/seal.
- Inspect and test coolant; drain and recover coolant; flush and refill cooling system with recommended coolant; bleed air as required.
- Perform engine oil and filter change.
There’s more, but the point is this: a graduate with 540 hours of instruction and practice in these and other basic tasks is more likely to be productive on the job almost immediately. As Donny Seyfer pointed out in the Shop Owner’s Panel at our last MACS gathering in New Orleans, shop owners aren’t looking for a tech who can rebuild engines, “We want someone who can do the things we do 90 percent of the time, and do them well.” The new NATEF curriculum is designed to produce exactly that kind of entry-level tech. The full 159-page document can be found at: