The Growing Prominence of Online Training
When Jeff Kallemeyn got the email, he simply couldn’t believe it.
“We were shocked when we heard the news,” says Kallemeyn, owner of Kallemeyn Collision Center in Lemont, Ill., of him and his fellow Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) board members at an April 2017 meeting.
Turns out, Tesla—an OEM certification he had spent thousands obtaining—had decided to partner with I-CAR to expand its OEM certification program and transition to online training for structural technicians. To Kallemeyn and his fellow board members, the move away from live demonstrations to online-based training felt like the start of a scary trend.
But to Jason Bartanen, director of industry technical relations for I-CAR, the move simply represents the next step—a step largely misunderstood by the industry.
“I believe we’ll likely see more online training from everybody: I-CAR, OEMs, tool and equipment makers,” he says. “I also believe the online courses will be followed with in-shop, hands-on training, based on the theory taught in the online course.”
I-CAR is currently in the process of transferring its courses to an online-based platform as well, but those classes will be combined with a live classroom demonstrations in an effort to make training more efficient and accessible. I-CAR’s model could very well end up reflecting Tesla’s (and other OEMs’) effort to reduce training costs and improve OEM certification accessibility.
The OEM Mentality
Earlier this year, Tesla announced some lofty goals that turned many heads: In March 2017, the company made plans to add 300 approved body shops within just a few weeks. In a statement from Jon McNeill, president of global sales and service for Tesla, said the company would "eliminate" underperforming body shops and would “have individuals on our team personally manage each car on behalf of our customers that are in third-party body shops."
Kallemeyn says this declaration stemmed from noticeably long cycle times plagued by a lack of proper training and parts delays. Also, there was a lack of approved facilities, he says, due to the inconvenience of live training and the substantial investments required (Kallemeyn spent $20,000 per technician for the Tesla training).
In April, Tesla vowed to update its body shop program in advance of its long-anticipated Model 3 release by simplifying training and reducing certification costs. And in May, Tesla announced intentions to open its own auto body shops in late 2017, and lowered OEM training costs by introducing “satellite cosmetic repair" locations, which require significantly less training and equipment.
The overall focus on reducing costs—which included an I-CAR partnership, adjusting equipment requirements, and approving several popular aluminum welders—is what ultimately led to the focus on online training.
“I don't see how it’s possible that the factory training can be replaced by videos,” Kallemeyn says. “These Tesla cars are just so complicated, compared to the others we work on, especially with the welding. Technicians need a live classroom setting to ask the proper questions.”
While Tesla did not respond to an interview request from FenderBender, if the company’s new model is anything like I-CAR’s push for online training, I-CAR’s director of curriculum and product development Josh McFarlin says the situation may not be as concerning as it appears.
A Curriculum Overhaul
Honestly, McFarlin understands the concern and hesitation. Online training is a new and scary world for many shop operators and technicians.
But, like all widespread changes, there will be an adjustment period, he says. And once people accept that, he says they’ll realize the advantages online training has to offer when it’s accompanied by live training.
“I'm not asking anyone to read a book,” McFarlin says. “I'm asking people to go through an interactive online course with narration, where things are being explained in a step-by-step, methodical, well-thought-out process.”
In 2010, McFarlin says I-CAR began concentrating on making training more readily available online. It was a rough process at first, as three-hour PowerPoint presentations weren’t very interactive or digestible in an online format.
Between 2010 and 2017, however, McFarlin says the organization has overcome the growing pains and is currently in the midst of overhauling curriculum with an online focus. I-CAR plans to offer a larger percentage of online-only courses than it has in the past, many of which will be “mini-courses” that range from 30 minutes to an hour in length.
The idea is to hyper focus the online courses—for procedures such as welding, MIG brazing and rivet bonding—by eliminating slide-heavy presentations. This will create less work for instructors and free them up for live, hands-on training and one-on-one interactions with technicians following online courses.
“Those classes will be more interactive and engaging than what you've seen from us in the past,” McFarlin says, “in order to make it a better experience for the student and more effective from a learning retention standpoint.”
McFarlin expects the curriculum overhaul to be completed within 18 months. By the end of 2018, he says collision repair operators can expect from I-CAR a complete transition into online training mixed with live classroom follow-ups.