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Log On to Learn: Internet/satellite Training

Technology is making training for collision repairers easier, faster and cheaper than ever before.

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You’ve probably heard talk about Internet/satellite training becoming the next big thing, but what does it really mean to you? And how will it benefit your facility?

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Before I tell you the answers, let me show you.

Imagine a collision repair facility that’s produced a steady growth pattern over the last five years. In 2000, their gross sales exceeded $2.5 million. This year, they’re already experiencing more growth due to the “real winter” their region had, so their anticipated sales for 2001 is $3 million. In fact, they’re planning to build a new location in June.

They have a conventional management, customer care and administrative staffing model that includes three estimators, two customer care representatives, a front desk person, three data entry/accounting staff members, a parts manager, an assistant parts manager, a production manager and a staging specialist. The owner is actively involved on a daily basis and performs duties of both a general manager and an office manager. Her husband is also involved on a daily basis within production, training and quality control. They have five Level 3 technicians and a combination of eight Level 1 and Level 2 technicians in production, working in three teams.

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Today, following the morning managers meeting, the production and parts manager prepare for the production day before normal business hours. Meanwhile, the estimators continue their daily online training programs from their satellite system connection on their workstations. All of them are scheduled for their quarterly review at the end of the week and are preparing for the review of their educational performance targets – despite the fact they’ve exceeded their goals since the introduction of targets three years ago.

On the educational agenda, this day includes a scheduled training program for corrosion protection procedures at 2:30 p.m. for the entire production staff and estimators. This session runs about 30 minutes and is the last in a series. Again, because the other staff members have already completed this program, the scheduled members are excited about the upcoming information and the certification test that will follow in the next session later this month.

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At 3 p.m., the new data entry staff members are scheduled for a combination management system training and accounting transfer program that’s designed to reduce entry errors and, consequently, accounting distribution mistakes. This program, like the other training, is a two-way satellite-transmitted learning experience. But it also includes hands-on computer simulated exercises for immediate certification of session participants if they score above 90 percent during the exercises. The session is also the last in a series, so when/if they successfully complete this session, their certificates and transcript of session performance scores will be printed from the company’s color laser printer. This completes their educational requirements for their quarterly performance reviews three weeks in advance.

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Also on today’s training agenda, the two company laptops are checked out for the evening to the staging specialist, who’s completing his first session of the Shingo/Ohno TPS (Toyota Production System) module, and to the Level 3 paint technician, who’s completing her paint system’s last training and certification session. She’s successfully mastered all other paint system programs and from this, the company’s lifetime paint warranty can be offered.

In addition, the entire staff is scheduled this Thursday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. for the new interactive Reducing Cycle Time Program on two-way satellite, being held in their upstairs training center. This new program projects video transmission of the program to their 6-foot Plasma Flat Panel while allowing live, two-way audio communication directly to the presenter for questions and comments. This new training center has saved thousands of dollars in travel and other training costs since it opened at the end of last year.

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What’s In It for You
Is that shop scenario a reality yet? No. But it will be. It may be premature to say today that Internet and satellite training are some of the best methods to reach repairers, but as with any new technology, innovation will drive changes. The Internet and satellites affecting education – and just about everything else we accept as normal today – is inevitable. The question is no longer if it will work, but when it will be available.

Your question, however, is likely why you should care – what’s in it for you. This early in the game, that’s very hard to quantify exactly, but I’ll give it a shot. A definite benefit will be that you won’t have to send techs out of house and away from their jobs for training; training can be internalized, which allows you to build a very highly trained staff.

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And this, in turn, saves you money. Currently, if you send a tech away for a week of training on the new frame rack you just bought, it will easily cost your shop another $5,000 – in loss of revenue due to the tech’s absence, the cost of travel and his salary.

I believe at first the training will be free – until it becomes very specific to a related process in the shop and maybe even customized to a shop’s exact procedures. Then it may cost. Internet training most likely won’t eliminate all hands-on training but could easily reduce the time away from the shop to one-third of what it is now.

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The Future Is Here … for Some
Many other industries have already begun using Internet and satellite training to do more than supplement their normal training. Many use them to provide employee orientation, new sales training and even current technical presentations in their field. Hundreds of training sites online are available, covering a host of topics – and many of the courses are free.

Companies such as www.headlight.com, www.newhorizons.com and www.educationtogo.com, as well most major universities, have seen the benefit of Internet and satellite learning. Entire certification and graduate courses can be taken from your home or office, and travel can be virtually eliminated unless the testing requires attendance in a proctored setting.

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Some of these courses may be multimedia (use of various media sources such as video, audio, text, graphics, interactive exercises) or just plain text/workbook format. For many, this method of learning works well; for others it doesn’t. Regardless, you should get used to it – it’s here to stay.

Recently, providing video through an Internet connection has become possible. Of course, improvement will continue and someday we’ll get full-screen video that doesn’t “jump” or skip around. Until then, we have a few obstacles to overcome, which I’ll cover a little later.

Recently, companies such as www.presenter.com have developed a method for presenters to upload their PowerPoint presentations and add video plus audio to the experience. And this experience is really similar to attending a live presentation of the program, except there’s no interaction between the presenter and attendee. The interface is very user-friendly and much like the controls on a VCR (but you don’t have to program it).

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These new sites include many training modules so anyone at any time can log on and learn. And again, many are free.

For years, auto manufacturers have offered satellite-based training systems to their dealers. These systems included new vehicle information, sales presentation programs and even service-related technical information. And the imminent expansion of this technology into the collision repair industry isn’t far off.

Currently, exciting initiatives in Phoenix and the Bay Area of California have begun to offer complete satellite systems installed in a collision repair facility for the similar price of a business high-speed connection, such as DSL. The beauty is that just about anywhere in North America, this system will provide high-speed Internet access and two-way communication.

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Two-way communication? In other words, not only does the presenter “present” the training program and the students watch and listen, but now students can ask questions and interact with the presenter. This will be the greatest feature – and it’s something we’ve been waiting for.

Excellent training will become more readily available while bad training will disappear. The best presenters in the world will become your personal instructors, right in your own business or home.

And the breadth of these systems is wide; they can store 50 to 100 hours of training programs immediately available upon demand to your staff.

So What’s Stopping Us?
We need to change as an industry and accept not just changes taking place right now, but what’s coming our way in the near future.

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What specifically needs to change before we can move forward?

1. Our lack of commitment to training – The current training courses and locations available today are nowhere near fulfilling the real need of our industry – in part because there’s not enough of a demand. Why? The main reason our industry doesn’t support training is that it’s received very poor training over the years, especially when compared to the standard that Internet training has to offer. (Internet training can potentially have the “best of the best” instructors teaching the program to everyone at once. This way, the program doesn’t degenerate in quality as the instructor base is widened across the country.) Unfortunately, our industry hasn’t seen the return on investment from existing training and doesn’t always understand the significance of analyzing the return.

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More than 90 percent of the problems we see when consulting worldwide could’ve been avoided with proper training. For owners and managers, this would include the basic business courses such as financial planning, marketing, personnel management, sales and negotiating skills. In most shops, administrative support staff have only been given a quick, one-time blitz on their accounting package, management system, estimating system and office programs – and maybe all within one day. This also applies to the equipment and systems used daily by the production staff. (The list is so long that it’s become a serious concern.)

But as with any product (training), there has to be a realized need by the industry followed by a strong demand. This then places the demand high enough that companies will develop training for this type of media.

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Currently, many courses have already been developed in general business, human resources and related areas of the collision industry, but the new type of training designed specifically for the Internet and satellites for the collision repair industry is only in a “beta” stage. At first, the training will simply be “chopped down” versions of other media-type training. But once the demand becomes real, a new type of training that capitalizes on short, segmented learning modules ranging from five minutes to an hour will be born. Live or stored educational lectures will be available every week, just like your local cable programming. And the most interesting area is cost – it will become very inexpensive to get the latest training and certification.

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2. Speed and bandwidth – Today, key challenges to any business application – including Internet training – are speed and bandwidth. Modem speeds have increased from three to four years ago and are now being replaced with cable and ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) connections.

This new technology is helping to make the Internet a serious contender for business applications, including training. In fact, it won’t be long before you rent your business applications rather than purchase them. Such offerings that make “rental” possible are commonly called application service providers (ASPs). These companies provide programs to a large base of customers at a much lower price than purchasing. Plus, you always get the latest version.

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Currently, some companies offer a complete accounting solution online and other companies offer online estimating. The list is already long and will continue to grow.

This can be applied not only to basic programs, but to entire departments within an organization. For example,www.HROne.com provides a human resource department customizable for any industry for less than $50 per month (up to 50 employees). You’ll be able to have your own training department as well.

The other challenge is bandwidth, which is how much information a connection can carry at one time. But it must be divided by the number of users accessing the system at the same time. This is why even though the consumer versions of cable and ADSL have an acceptable speed when there are few users, the speeds slow down tremendously when users increase at peak times. For this reason, it’s generally recommended to purchase a “guaranteed” speed for business applications. This is, of course, improving every month.

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The new satellite technology will improve it by taking us to the next level – with speeds up to twice that of ADSL and cable. But this, too, has bandwidth limitations so we’ll again reach a barrier at some point. And then we’ll have to develop a new way.

Get Connected
There’s no doubt that current “live” attended training programs will always be required for motor skill-based processes. You can’t teach a person to be a major league baseball star by just having him watch a few games on TV. Same goes for certain aspects of collision repair.

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There are, however, many areas of a skill that can be taught before – and reinforced after – the actual skill training is done.

During a visit to an Automotive Training Managers Conference event a few years back, I reviewed a Ford electronics program. The student had to pass it before he was allowed to attend the “live” program. Though collision repair doesn’t have anything like this yet, it can be applied to many areas of our training.

For example, for a paint school, the color theory, mixing process, use of computerized scales and other product specific procedures could be taught with an interactive response-type program in which the technician must make the right choices to move through the learning experience – much like an adventure video game like Dragon’s Lair. If the tech passes the program, only then can he go to the actual application training, which is basically hands-on.

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Though the available Internet and satellite training and hardware are just emerging, I’d never bet against them revolutionizing our industry. Change – especially when it comes to technology – is only going to accelerate in the next few years. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that in a year, there will be even more innovation to talk about and more ways to provide real-time training on the spot right in your office, home or even on a portable handheld. Any takers?

Contributing Editor Tony Passwater is president of AEII, a consulting, training and system-development company. He’s been in the industry for more than 27 years; has been a collision repair facility owner, vocational educator and I-CAR international Instructor; and has taught seminars across North America, Korea and China. He can be contacted at (317) 290-0611, ext. 101, or at ([email protected]). Visit his Web site at www.aeii.net for more information.

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What Will It Cost Me?
Though the Internet/satellite training and hardware are just emerging, you’re probably wondering what sort of investment they’d require.

$ Internet Training – For Internet training to become a reality in your shop, it will cost you about the same as the cost of regular business high-speed DSL access, which is currently around $150 per month. This includes all the hardware, computer, etc. (You’d still need projection of the image to a larger screen if you want to go that route.)

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$ Satellite Training – The current pricing model of satellite includes everything necessary (except the projector), which is what makes it attractive. For you to use current Internet-offered training, you need a high-speed line, medium level hardware of today and a browser. But a whole satellite package today is less than $1,000 (excluding the big display units; those can run from $4,000 to $20,000).

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