Mike Stotler, Thomas Built Buses’ service training manager, said with conviction: “Training is the key.” And Stotler, who is recognized in the industry as a leader in the service training area, knows what he’s talking about. He’s responsible for Thomas Built’s Train the Trainer program, the Thomas Built Institute and on-site training at dealerships.
Thomas offers a robust array of resources, including on-line info and wiring diagrams, but the star in its service training lineup is the Thomas Built Institute. Launched in 2009, the program was designed to bring fleet managers and technicians up to speed on the latest in bus best practices. Participants get hands-on training and firsthand experience in less than a week’s time.
Sessions are held annually near High Point, N.C., where the company is headquartered, as well as on the road. With the exception of the factory tours that are a highlight of the trainings held in North Carolina, the road show version is nearly identical. Both have small classes (no more than 20 people in each). All of the attendees stay at the same hotel and, in the classroom and after hours, share information and experiences, learning from each other as much as from the class, creating a network with other technicians, and building relationships.
Topics on the training agenda vary from year to year. The next Institute will focus on technology that has changed over time, since technicians may be operating with historic, rather than current, up-to-date information. Coolants continue to be the topic of greatest interest, as they have been the past three or four years. Electrical is a close second. “Call it advanced electrical,” said Stotler, who explained that participants will learn how to test various electrical components using a multi-meter. Also on the agenda are emissions. “We’ll cover EPA 2007 and EPA 2010 requirements, diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) and selective catalytic reduction (SCR),” promised Stotler.
Seats are a new topic this year. That’s right: seats. “A topic we haven’t focused on previously,” said Stotler, “but it’s timely. Several National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rulings have changed the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards over the last year. Now all Type A school buses under 10,000 pounds (which includes the Thomas Built Minotour®) must be manufactured with installed three point lap/shoulder restraints. And the minimum strength of those seats, regardless of bus type, also has increased.”
Ken Hedgecock, Thomas Built Buses’ vice president of sales, marketing and service, said that he hears from loyal TBB customers that the Thomas Built training program – and Stotler himself – play a key role in their decisions to purchase Thomas Built buses. “Thomas is a leader in teaching our customers how to maintain their own vehicles, and how to do it quickly and efficiently. Our dealers know what they’re doing and they know information is never far away. Our program is a huge benefit to our customers because it allows us to offer factory-level training to more customers and technicians than any other bus manufacturer.”