As the machinery that operates the school bus advances, so does the training to keep those intricate parts running in optimal condition. To stay on top of the latest updates in technology, bus shops must maintain a near constant level of focus on technical proficiency.
The mechanics and technicians employed by transportation departments nationwide are some of the most experienced and dedicated workers in a school district. Their commitment has helped preserve the school bus’s title as the safest vehicle on the road.
But enriching professional knowhow to stay current is a benefit to the mechanic and technician, as well as the vehicles under their care.
Jason Johnson is the president of the New York Head Mechanic’s Association, which unites head mechanics, mechanics and related repair professionals under one umbrella to meet educational needs and foster techniques of school bus maintenance and safety, among things.
To meet the ever-changing requirements mechanics and technicians are presented with on a daily basis, Johnson said the NYHMA offers financial support for school bus safety and maintenance programs throughout the state to keep expertise current.
He said he has noticed that most of the mechanics and technicians he interacts with make the personal decision to advance their skills, reaching out to the NYHMA to ask for the training.
Mechanics and technicians have other options to further their expertise. The Oklahoma Technical College is a non-profit, private institution that, according to the website, delivers “high-quality, career-oriented education in several hands-on environments.”
Within this school, the automotive technology program provides students with “hands-on learning sessions in our fully functioning auto shop as you work on our in-house fleet of vehicles.
After eight and a half months, students walk away with Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification in several performance areas, including engine repair, automatic transmission, suspension and steering and heating and air conditioning.
Roughly 300,000 automotive technicians and service professionals hold ASE certifications around the country and operate in every part of the automotive service industry.
The ASE exists as tangible proof of an automotive technician professional’s technical knowledge. To qualify, a mechanic or technician must have two years of on-the-job training or one year of on-the-job training with a two-year degree in automotive repair.
The test, which is written by a national panel of industry professionals, is broken into a variety of categories, such as school bus, medium/heavy truck and truck equipment. To maintain certification, the test is retaken every five years.
Those with ASE certification can also earn Master Technician status, which is for professionals who have passed a specified group of test series, which cover areas like school buses, medium/heavy-duty trucks and transit buses. Recertification is required every five years. Any lapse causes holders to lose their status.
Oklahoma Technical College also offers students diesel technology program, where participants learn “to inspect, diagnose, repair and conduct failure analysis and preventative maintenance inspections.”
Like the automotive program, the diesel technology program takes eight and a half months. Students are trained on an array of engine sizes to gain skills in a number of fields, like electronic circuits, cooling systems, truck brake systems and hydraulics, just to name a few.
As for the training offered by the NYHMA, Johnson said, “We strive to keep all mechanics up-to-date with all things related to the school bus needs.”
He added that the changeover rate is steady, and as people retire and new hirers come on board, there’s a concerted effort to keep everyone in the loop.
Training has changed a lot over the years,” said Johnson, who is also the equipment service manager for Horseheads Center School District, a New York district near the Pennsylvania border. “It has become more of a technician’s game than a mechanic.”
In other words, as he explained, professionals are using computers and diagnostic tools more than a decade ago, and, in many instances, products are lasting longer.
“That doesn’t mean you don’t check the bulb first,” Johnson added. “It’s not the item that’s bad, but the process where it gets power from is the issue.”
The list of skills mechanics and technicians need to possess is growing. There’s multiplexing, or the streamlining of wiring, a benefit for troubleshooting and repairs, which, according to Johnson, is now a standard on almost all buses.
On top of the number of abilities mechanics and technicians need to have, bus shops, oftentimes, have quite a few stringent regulations that require meticulous knowledge to adhere to.
Johnson referred to the fact that New York has some of the toughest transportation standards in the country. For instance, the various emissions regulations the Environmental Protection Agency keeps enacting, which Johnson reported “keep us on our toes.”
“We never have a problem filling the classes when we have training because these men and women are truly devoted to their job,” Johnson added, saying that he has “always told mechanics (and technicians) as they are working on the buses, ‘Just imagine if your child rode this bus, how would you look at it.’”
He said he found that personalizing the work that his mechanics and technicians do for the Horseheads Center School District helps them “put their heart into everything they do…. I think the mechanics in our field are most interested in making these buses the safest in the country.”
Editor’s Note: Reprinted from the February 2017 issue of School Transportation News magazine.