Maintenance Testing

A common mission statement for our industry would probably be something like "We provide on-time, clean, safe and friendly service to our customers and the communities that we service." That simple statement is the reason for our existence. However, from a maintenance point of view, that means providing maximum equipment availability to meet the scheduled and unscheduled demands for service. Moreover, it also means that the maintenance of the equipment has to be as economical and efficient as possible in order to provide the maximum vehicle and component life.

In maintenance, we tend to measure our return on invested fare and tax dollars in costs per mile, mean miles between road calls, miles per gallon, etc. How do we measure our investment or value for the mechanics that we employ and train to perform the various maintenance functions? Generally speaking, each mechanic is both a cost and savings center.

As a rule, the key to an efficient and effective maintenance department, in part, is having qualified mechanics to perform the various maintenance tasks. This is not always easily accomplished. The external job market is unable to provide our industry with individuals that possess the required skills and competencies. However, there are a few human resource managers that are under the impression that training and maintenance departments should be able to develop and train any individual for a career as a transit mechanic.

For the most part, those of us in training know this is not true. Hence, our industry has adopted the "Grow Our Own" philosophy. "Grow Our Own" simply means shaping an individual to meet our expectations. Many transit properties have done a good job of training and qualifying the maintenance workforce to meet the maintenance demands of the transit business. Yet, how good is good when it comes down to measuring the skills and competencies of a transit mechanic? What is their value to cost ratio?

Nevertheless, technology is changing our industry at a tremendous rate. It is also changing and enhancing the skills and competencies of our transit mechanics. How do we measure as well as recognize their exceptional skills and competencies? How do we qualify and compare their skills in relation to other industries? As mentioned above, how do we substantiate the investment made in a career?

In short, one way to accomplish, substantiate or recognize the skills and competencies of our transit maintenance employees is to certify their skills and competencies. In doing so, certification becomes a credential that everyone seeks. For example, doctors, lawyers, paramedics and other occupations require a certification that provides credentials for an individual to perform in that certified occupation. It recognizes the knowledge, skills, competencies, abilities and initiative that an individual has to exhibit in order to earn the status and credential of the occupation. Why should our transit mechanics have anything less?

Transit moves the most people, next to the personal automobile. That is a big responsibility for our industry. Safety, dependability, security and comfort are essential to our customers.

In late October of 2003, a recommendation was forwarded to the TCRP Oversight and Project Selection (TOPS) Committee to fund the TCRP Project E-6, Transit Bus Mechanics: Building for Success - The ASE Transit Bus Maintenance Certification Test Series. Project E-6 was a long time in coming. The first problem statement recognized the need for a national transit mechanics certification and was submitted in 1994.

The Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, commonly known as ASE, is an independent, non-profit organization that facilitates industry-related certification tests. ASE was first organized in the early 1970s as an unbiased organization that would recognize and certify automobile mechanics. This was done by the automotive industry as a way of policing their industry in lieu of government national mechanic certification. The government became involved as a result of public outcry due to automobile repairs being performed by incompetent individuals.

ASE has a partnership in the certification process. That partnership is connected with the American College Testing Program (ACT). ACT is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides more than a hundred assessment, research, information and program management services in the broad areas of education and workforce development. In 2002, ACT officially acknowledged its growing role in supporting both education and the workforce. Though designed to meet a wide array of needs, all ACT programs and services have one guiding purpose and that is to help people achieve education and workplace success.

In March of 2004, a 20-member panel consisting of both transit labor and management met for the first time in regards to the TCRP Project E-6, Transit Bus Mechanics: Building for Success - The ASE Transit Bus Maintenance Certification Test Series. The purpose of the committee was to oversee the development and implementation of the ASE Transit Bus Certification Tests. Much has transpired since that day in March 2004. A series of meetings was conducted, using Subject Matter Experts (SME) from various transit authorities to establish related work tasks in relationship to the following ASE Transit Test Areas:

  • *Transit Bus Electrical/Electronics
  • *Transit Bus Brake Systems
  • *Transit Bus HVAC Transit Bus Diesel Engines
  • *Transit Bus – L2, Electronic Diesel Engine Diagnosis Specialist
  • *Transit Bus Steering and Suspension
  • *Transit Bus Transmission and Drive Train
  • *Transit Bus Preventive Maintenance Inspection (PMI)

There have been, and will continue to be, subsequent meetings of SMEs in order to develop the questions that will be used in the Transit Bus Series Certification Tests. As a result of these question development workshops, in May of 2006, the first ever ASE Transit Bus Certification Tests made their debut. Transit Bus Brakes and Transit Bus Electronics/ Electrical were the first two tests debuted because of their importance to our industry. Approximately 700 mechanics/ technicians registered for the brake test and approximately 600 registered for the electrical/electronics tests. In June of 2006, a working group of experts met to establish the passing scores for each of the tests. As a result, approximately 400 and approximately 350 respectively, received their certifications in each of the areas.

In November of 2006, both the transit Bus Brake and Electrical/Electronic tests will be offered again. In May of 2007, the Transit Bus HVAC, Diesel Engines and L2 Diesel Engine Electronic Diagnosis Specialist Tests will make their debut. With five tests soon to be done, the evaluation of what number of tests will constitute the achievement of Master Transit Bus Technician, ibelieve it's time to ask the question: What does the ASE Transit Bus Technician Credential mean and how does it affect our industry?

In attempting to answer that question, we must consider what has occurred or been accomplished so far as a result of the ASE test development:

The ASE Test Series is supported by the two major transit unions; both the Amalgamated Transit Union and Transit Worker Union Internationals support the ASE Tests and Certification Process. However, they both have concerns. Their main concerns include that sufficient training, as well as training resources, be made available to provide individuals the opportunity to pass the ASE test series and that the results of the tests be used in a positive, not a negative manner.

The unions are equal partners in the development of not only the tests, but the training material as well. As indicated previously, the TCRP Project E-6 oversight committee is a joint union/management committee. Many of the SMEs used to identify the tasks and write the questions were union members. Bob Hykaway, ATU International vice president, serves as the co-chair along with Union vice-co chairpersons on the various committees of the APTA Bus Maintenance Training Standards Working Group. Union SMEs were involved in the development of study guides for the ASE Transit Test Series which were published by Delmar Publishing.

In regards to training and training resources, there continues to be significant progress in the following:

  • *Training Standards – APTA has recognized the need to establish training standards for our industry. As a result, the APTA Bus Maintenance Training Standards Working Group has been formed to establish and recommend curriculum standards to benefit the training of our incumbent employees as well as perspective new employees. This process includes identifying transit specific standard work tasks and identifying the related training curriculum for those tasks. As part of the "Grow Our Own Process" we have to establish the criteria for transit specific skills and competencies for technical training institutions and colleges if they wish to be able to provide individuals with the necessary qualifications for our industry. Incumbent workers' skills must be enhanced as technology changes. The objective of the Bus Maintenance Training Standards Working Group is to establish and recommend training standards that, in a way, exceed the training required to pass the ASE test. The recommendations and or standards will be set to exceed the requirements of the ASE tests. The reason is clear; in order to have everyone properly trained, the level of training must go beyond your highest credential. Having industry training standards in place will prevent our industry from constantly re-inventing the training wheel. It will provide a valuable resource to smaller properties that may not have a training department.
  • Training Resources – Delmar Publishing had shown a significant interest in publishing the ASE Transit Series Study Guides. We had requested from Delmar that we would like, if possible, to have transit individuals author, review and critique our study guides. The credential in the study guide is that it would be written by transit maintenance professionals to be used by transit maintenance professionals. Work will continue to constantly provide the training resources required for transit employees to obtain the highest level of skills and competencies needed for our industry.

As part of the training resources, through an initiative by the National Transit Institute (NTI), a program was developed to enhance the instructional skills of bus maintenance instructors in relationship to the ASE test learning process and the need to address the learning techniques as they apply to adult learners. The Training and Coaching Skills for Bus Maintenance Instructors: Preparing for ASE Certification is another step toward improving learning skills by establishing industry standards or recommendations in order to provide a better opportunity for success.

The important question is: How will the ASE credential be used? First, our industry has to accept and embrace it as both the standard as well as the credential of our industry. iwould just like to remind everyone that the ASE tests are not tests that anyone can pass as the process of question relevancy to challenging and recognizing skills and competencies is continual. Part of the scoring process requires that the questions identify and meet the standards required for certification of skills and competencies. Neither easy, nor hard questions are relevant to establishing skills and competencies or a credential. Keep in mind that both the process and organization are the same, whether it be in certifying a transit mechanic or your personal physician or lawyer.

Some transit properties have suggested using the ASE test questions to hire new employees. Since it is rare now to find qualified employees to meet our minimum hiring requirements, it will also be rare to find an individual from the external labor market to pass our industry's highest credential on initial hire. Again, it is a credential that identifies our "Top Guns" when it comes to transit maintenance. It will serve as our standard of recognition. You want to use the credential wisely.

Instead of a hiring tool, it should be used as a promotional or incentive tool. Again, training will be important in order for the individual to acquire the credential. Just having an employee take the test, without preparation, is just preparing an employee to fail and the value of the credential to be lost. The fact that the ASE process requires recertification every five years should be a point of consideration for some type of wage premium or incentive. The use of a wage premium or incentive would be a better motivator for success than threatening loss of job for failure to pass the test. Remember that old adage about attracting more flies with honey than vinegar?

The certification credential, whether it be ASE or in-house, does place the need for enhanced training to the forefront. However, it also places a new responsibility on the individual. Nothing is automatic; a certain amount of personal initiative and motivation are required. The individual must be willing to accept the responsibility and accountability of the credential, and in doing so it may be another reason to substantiate a wage premium or incentive.

On a different note, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has established regulations regarding vehicle maintenance which are addressed in CFR 49, Parts 393/396. Section 396.17, identifies the qualifications of a vehicle inspector. The ASE Preventive Maintenance Inspection test should address and satisfy the requirement of this section.

Several other agencies such as the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance have adopted and implemented standards for vehicle inspection. The North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria and North American Vehicle Inspection Standard relate vehicle maintenance procedures directly to safety. The FTA Transit Bus Safety Program, Task 3 - Development of a Model Transit Bus Safety Program identifies some specific procedures and tasks in transit vehicle maintenance that are directly related to safety. These vehicle areas or systems are identified on pages 13 and 14 of the document. The FTA Transit Bus Safety Program, Task 2 - Regulations and Oversight, Section III, Findings and Recommendations, identify the following areas as contributing to improving transit safety:

  1. Employment Practices
  2. Vehicle Inspection Procedures
  3. Preventive Maintenance Procedures

To further refine and enhance on the above, in that same section, the California Transit Insurance Pool (Caltip) has identifi ed 18 critical areas of safety. Of the 18, the following applied to maintenance, specifi cally to mechanic qualification:

  1. Mechanic Employment
  2. Mechanic Selection
  3. Mechanic Training
  4. Mechanic Re-Training
  5. Mechanic Evaluation
  6. Vehicle Inspection
  7. Vehicle Maintenance

In addition, the Transit Mutual Insurance Corporation of Wisconsin (TMi) has indicated that a safety manual be developed and the topics for the manual under the maintenance section should address the following areas within maintenance:

  • a. vehicle
  • b. facility
  • c. training
  • d. evaluations
  • e. incentives

So with all of that said, the National ASE Transit Bus Certification Test Credential and the resulting development of training standards for bus maintenance may have more of an industry outreach than just mechanic certification.

The ASE Transit Credential is here and the industry should use it wisely. Use it as a positive tool to recognize the diverse level of qualification, skills and competencies that transit mechanics must possess. In doing so we will be attaining our objective/mission, as well as boosting public confidence in the safety, security and reliability that transit offers and that the public expects. In regards to transit vehicle maintenance labor, we will be able to show our customers that they are getting the highest return for their invested tax and fare dollars.