COVID-19 has allowed technical trainers like Mark Lemay to expand their reach like never before.
Mark Lemay is President of Auto Aide Technicial Services, an automotive diagnostic training and service business based in Barrie, Ontario. Since the onset of COVID-19, Auto Aide has not only continued to perform diagnostic repairs in the province but has also ramped up its training program to offer not only in-class sessions in small groups (restricted to two technicians at a time at present) but has also launched a series of webinars on specific subjects that are able to reach a much wider audience not only in Ontario, but across Canada as well.
CarCare Business recently chatted with Mark and asked him about COVID-19 and some of the trends he’s seen emerging as a result of the pandemic. For more about Auto Aide Technical services, visit autoaide.ca
CarCare Business: Since the COVID-19 pandemic, what has been the biggest feedback you’ve seen from technicians in terms of how they are looking to successfully diagnose and repair specific vehicle problems?
Mark Lemay: The vehicles haven’t changed, so the problems that were there before COVID-19 are still there. Perhaps one thing that is different is the fact that many technicians now have more time to take training since the service bays don’t tend to be as busy at many shops.
I think when it comes to training, we will have to wait and see how it evolves, because currently, we don’t yet have enough evidence to show there is a big shift taking place. In our case we were training probably 700 technicians a month before COVID-19 and in the webinars we’ve been organizing over the last several months the biggest attendance we’ve had was 96 technicians.
Everybody that signed up for one of our training classes would have gotten an email invitation to sign up, but the numbers of actual participants in these webinars has showed that to date, the majority of technicians in our database have chosen not to attend.
Has the pandemic seen any changes in terms of the types of repairs that are in demand from technicians?
When you’re looking specifically at diagnostics, we continue to get the same types of calls and requests, such as vehicle programming and troubleshooting but with the stay-at-home orders still in force, certainly here in Ontario, the frequency of those calls is far less. People are still not moving around, therefore their vehicles aren’t getting driven as much, which means fewer breakdowns and less need for diagnostic services, at least at this time.
Are you finding that the pandemic is now enabling more technicians to sign up to diagnostic training and perhaps work toward addressing the need for ongoing training and development?
We’ve traditionally had a number of forward-thinking shops and technicians that sign up to do diagnostic training and we are finding it is often the same group of people who are attending our sessions today. That being said, we are growing our email and our contact list and at every session we host there are technicians who have never been in our database before, so I would say it is slowly increasing but I do feel there is still a long way to go.
Do see online training and webinars forming a greater part of diagnostic training even after the Pandemic fizzles out?
I think that online training and webinars will definitely continue and become a more important part of technician training for two reasons.
Firstly, from my perspective as a trainer, I can now reach more people online. Whereas once we were often limited to the province of Ontario, today thanks to video technology we can offer training nationwide and potentially reach a far greater number of shops and technicians.
We tend to find that the older technicians are the ones that want to do more of the actual physical classroom learning because they often aren’t used to doing it from a computer screen. By contrast, many of the younger guys are very comfortable with the technology and far more willing to try it.
Secondly, I do feel that while younger technicians are keener to use online learning platforms, from some angles they are less likely to actually train because there is a feeling that they can just look up the procedure online, such as on YouTube. The thing is, that doing it this way can work sometimes, but it doesn’t work all the time.
To help address that, we’ve been working on a platform and trying to roll it out nationwide. Technicians who sign up to our online group can go into the portal and there is a section called Diagnostics on Demand.
For example, if somebody is looking to test a mass air flow meter and doesn’t know the process to do that, they can literally go in and play a video on their smartphone while they are in the service bay, working on the vehicle.
The technician might not necessarily understand the process the first time, but if they follow the steps, they can begin to get the hang of it and know what leads to a pass or fail. And I think that is important as trainers, for us to consider. The younger generation of technicians are using online sites and they are relying on finding content there to help them.
If we can provide services like this, even though they might not understand it at first, being able to walk them through it can definitely help.
In terms of AutoAide delivering diagnostics services how has the way you work with shops evolved during COVID-19, especially when it comes to things like mobile diagnostics services?
I don’t feel like our business has changed a lot. Service repair shops are still operating, and we are still going into the shop like we did in the past. We have taken precautions such as putting disinfectant wipes on our service truck and Jordan Coseni, who works with me has specific instructions to leave should he enter a shop and see that somebody there is showing symptoms of COVID-19.
We want to be able to perform the diagnostics services we’ve been asked to do but we want to do it in a safe environment and being somewhere where a person appears to be sick is not only risky, but also isn’t fair.
With some service repair businesses looking at doing pickup and delivery of vehicles, have you adopted similar practices to maintain a safe working environment?
We are definitely encouraging our customers to bring vehicles to us and leave them here for us to work on, as opposed to going out and picking them up. Besides the safety factor it also enables us to more easily catalogue the diagnostic and troubleshooting work we perform because we can record it our facility and then make it available to our online presentations. So that is definitely something that has changed.