With the advent of sophisticated technologies in bus equipment, mechanics are turning in their wrenches for computers and complex diagnostic hardware and software.
To address the growing need for highly trained mechanics, as well as to enhance and standardize training, more than 30 transit operators, community colleges and related educational organizations in southern California joined to form the Southern California Regional Training Consortium (SCRTC).
The consortium creates a partnership between the transit industry and the local educational community to develop industry-driven, standardized training programs for mechanics. This includes the development of new methods and systems to keep pace with technological advances taking place in the industry.
“This marriage between local education and transit maintenance is a tremendous benefit to the industry,” says Jim Ditch, executive director of maintenance at Long Beach (Calif.) Transit and one of the founding fathers of the SCRTC. “It’s difficult and expensive to use our own manpower to train new and existing maintenance employees, and if we can leverage the expertise and tools of trained educators, we can raise the standards for maintenance personnel in our industry.”
The SCRTC’s goal is to take a broad look at current maintenance training programs and evaluate how educational institutions can standardize and regionalize this training with written repair procedures and labor standards. Unlike other industries, no certification exists for transit maintenance journeymen or master mechanics at the state or federal levels. Currently, each transit agency trains its own maintenance personnel, and as result, the quality and content of the training varies considerably among the systems. By partnering with local community colleges, the consortium will initially develop a basic mechanics training program with the applicable certifications. This will ultimately help to meet local workforce needs by providing well-trained, dependable students for available jobs in the industry.
Lynne Miller, dean of career and technical education at Long Beach City College, agrees that the partnership between the industry and the community colleges is a logical one. “We have experience in developing customized training programs to meet specific industry needs,” says Miller. “We also can provide a more general type of technical training so that employees can understand the theory behind what they are doing in the workplace and practice ‘real world’ applications of that theory in the classroom.”
The development of these programs will also enable transit agencies to use objective and quantifiable measures when evaluating work performance, pay adjustments and the hiring of employees.
Technology is focus
A focus on new technology is a natural one for the development of training programs with community colleges. Now and in the near future, SCRTC members will begin to incorporate advancements such as hybrid propulsion systems, advanced communication and intelligent transportation systems, on-board computerized microprocessors and computerized facility support systems.
In an attempt to meet training needs, many local transit agencies have relied on equipment vendors or sporadic, in-house training programs, or developed one-time relationships with local community colleges for specific projects. These varied programs are typically inconsistent with one another and lacking regional coordination.
The expertise and experience offered by the community college network will provide the broad foundation needed to develop regional standardized training programs for new technologies. As agencies decide to integrate such technology into their systems, a proven program — through the coalition — will already exist that can be shared with other agencies in the region, ultimately reducing the cost of this training overall.