Friday 9 December 2016

Up to speed: what it takes behind the scenes to keep your car on the road

Eddie Cunningham reports from Ford's academy on a non-stop cycle of learning that's essential to keeping us mobile

Published 08/04/2015 | 02:30

Ford Training Academy director Justin Mulrooney giving a training module. Among those in attendance were William Gannon (Dermot Kelly Ford, Kilcock) and Jason McDermott (Heggerty's Auto Services, Letterkenny).
Ford Training Academy director Justin Mulrooney giving a training module. Among those in attendance were William Gannon (Dermot Kelly Ford, Kilcock) and Jason McDermott (Heggerty's Auto Services, Letterkenny).
The module in action at the Ford Training Academy.

We do take a lot for granted with our cars, you know. We expect them to keep going and when something goes wrong we want them fixed immediately.

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Of course that is as it should be, but have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes when you drop off your car for repair, service or maintenance?

Most of us are under such time pressure we leave the keys and expect to pick up our vehicle in a few hours with everything sorted.

It was interesting to see what really is required to meet that sort of demand these days. Keeping your car on the road has become a seriously complicated business. How complicated I hadn't thought about much. No more than you, I suspect. With so many electronics and complicated technologies, those looking after it, the technicians (formerly known as 'mechanics'), face a constant race against time just to keep abreast of developments.

And not just technicians; virtually everyone - from sales/after-sales to accounts - need to be constantly updated.

Which is why distributors have training centres and academies. Ford's is in the M7 Business Park near Naas, Co Kildare. I dropped in for a few hours recently.

There I was met by Dave Pimlott, Customer Service Director at Ford, and we 'took the tour'. A number of top-grade technicians from around the country were being given a 'hands-on' lecture by training manager Justin Mulrooney.

The technicians told us that being able to physically do stuff with cars on the spot (there were several models) and in tandem with lectures was hugely helpful.

But so much of their work now is about diagnosis; digitally/electronically finding out what is wrong. They have a worldwide database to reference. Everything is logged. So a problem detected here can be alerted and averted across the globe. And vice versa.

Indeed, such is the level of diagnostics nowadays that Justin said, half-joking wholly in earnest, that a master technician could do his job in shirt and tie.

The facility is there to upskill, in this case, technicians on modern technologies: from parking-distance sensors to tyre pressures. But there is also extensive training for all involved - such as adapting to new computer systems, leadership, conflict management, customer relations, finance, health-and-safety courses, computer skills training etc.

Apprentices are looked after too, of course, with state training authority SOLAS playing a key role.

It was mind-boggling to see the number of courses. Dave told me: "Every type of training you would envisage someone in any other business getting, they are doing."

Interesting to hear him say that dealers want to, and need to, engage with customers the way Apple does. If that is their aim, then people have to be trained to the highest level.

It costs dealers €275 for each course but even at that, it is subsidised by Ford.

There are various grades of technicians, including Senior and Master. The latter course/programme is particularly tough; and if they don't continuously keep up to date they lose their master status.

Dave explains: "There has to be a constant state of development as cars become increasingly complex."

The number of technicians going through the course on a yearly basis is 837 - though that figure does include someone attending several times.

And there are around another 400 from sales, management, commercial vehicle specialist training etc who attend each year.

The thing with the technicians, you see, is that they have to be able to deal with ALL Ford models - and because of special contracts they need to know about other marques too. That's a lot of cars.

It so happened the lecture Justin Mulrooney was giving to some elite technicians was on tyre sensors.

I could fill the page on that alone. So many little things to know; many little things the out-of-date person could do wrong.

If that is the case with as small an item as a tyre sensor, can you imagine the level of knowledge required just to be up to speed with an entire car? An entire fleet?

So maybe next time you drop your motor off for some work you might think about the huge array of knowledge, skill and workmanship you have at your disposal.

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