Getting up to Speed

One vital aspect of running a busy truck workshop is maintaining a high skill level among the technicians. Tim Giles talks to Brown & Hurley in Queensland about its own internal training system.

Gone are the days where the skill levels required by a truck mechanic could be picked up by looking over the shoulder of an older colleague. These days, diesel engine technology is much more complex than it was a decade or two ago, so the skills, systems and practices needed in a modern workshop have had to evolve dramatically.

The Brown & Hurley Group, an institution in Australian trucking, has responded to the trend by establishing its very own training centre attached to the company’s Yatala branch south of Brisbane.

All 160 technicians working across the company’s nine branches – located between Tamworth in the south and Townsville in the north – regularly visit the facility to get updated on new technology and ensure a consistent national quality standard, explains Group Technical Trainer, Paul Hill, who sees some 300 people coming through the facility every year.

Paul’s role is to ensure the nation’s largest Kenworth dealer, which started out as a mechanical workshop in Kyogle in northern NSW, has access to perfectly trained staff at any time, in any location.

Having learnt the ropes as a plant mechanic at Caterpillar from the age of 16, Paul himself has worked all over Australia and also gained valuable experience abroad, working in places like Brunei and Papua New Guinea. Returning to Australia, Paul also worked for the Defence Forces in Woomera and Canberra, where he also gained his Diploma in Mechanical Engineering.

A move to Sydney as a TAFE teacher saw him take on more studies, ending up with a Degree in Adult Education, which eventually qualified him to take on the apprentice training for Brown & Hurley five years ago before being approached for his current role.

“We started off fairly small in a training room in the Yatala dealership, with just one engine, one transmission and one final drive. We actually had to roll the equipment out into the workshop and train there,” he recalls. “[But] we soon realised we were outgrowing the space here in the dealership and had to move next door to new premises, where we have been for just over three years now.”

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Paul says technicians who begin their career at Brown & Hurley still undergo their apprenticeship training at local TAFE colleges, as the company prefers the underpinning knowledge to be developed independently at school and in the workplace. The training centre, he explains, is purely for product and higher-level training. Apprentices only join the seniors in their third year for Kenworth and DAF-specific product training, which is then intensified during their fourth and final year.

They gain access to the full array of product training on offer when they become fully qualified tradesmen and stay with the company, Paul says, with on-going training provided to respond to changing technology and refresh existing knowledge.

“With new product training, we bring our foremen and leading hands in first as they have to bring the knowledge out into the workplace. The technicians then attend the training courses selected for them by their management,” Paul says.

“Technicians need to do one course before they progress to the next, so there is a set training stream for all of Brown & Hurley technical staff. It comes down to the service managers to select who comes to which course.”

Paul adds, “We like to think every technician will attend about two courses per year. 300 roll through the doors every year, with 30 to 35 courses delivered. If new staff come into the group from outside – we have had a few come in from the UK, for example – managers will generally make a conscious decision to push them through a few courses to get them up to speed. Quite often, a technician will attend a series of courses when they are first employed, until they are qualified on the products they will work on.”

Paul publishes a course schedule for the first six months of the year in December, with all of the courses booked out before the New Year. The same will happen when the second six-month calendar comes out in May.

While technicians are prioritised for bookings, parts managers can also select courses for their teams to attend, with a special focus on engines, final drives and transmission – areas where the designation of parts can be tricky and real life experience can be an advantage.

The facility itself has access to a complete Kenworth T605 for suspension, steering and brakes training. There are also a number of component modules set up, with Paul’s pride being a fully functioning Cummins ISX E5 module imported directly from the US. There are also a working Cummins ISX EGR and Paccar MX engines on hand, as well as two Caterpillars modules, which are still being brought into Brown & Hurley workshops.

The training engines are joined by a number of transmissions and final drives that can be used for practical, hands-on work by the students; and there is also a fully equipped training room for theory lessons. Incidentally, there is also a projector in the main workshop so all of the students can see exactly what is happening on screen.

“I deliver exactly what the OEMs deliver, on behalf of the OEM, for the Brown & Hurley Group,” says Paul, pointing out that courses are generally two to five days long, depending on the brand. “Cummins-certified courses are five days long and I deliver them exactly the same way as Cummins does. Paccar courses are four days long, so I fall in line with them as it makes paper work and documentation much easier.”

All Paccar training is recorded on the company’s training website and Paul is recognised as part of the Paccar training system. Courses for Eaton, Meritor and Dana equipment, as well a final drives, are shorter as per manufacturer design.

“90 per cent of the trucks built at [Kenworth’s] Bayswater factory come with the 15-litre engine, so we have 65 staff members qualified on the CM 871 EGR model.

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“But we also have 35 people qualified to work on CM 2250 SN SCR engines here in house; and we also have people familiar with the smaller Cummins ISM and ISL engines, who are trained directly by Cummins,” Paul says. “As a Cummins dealer, Cummins is a big part of our business and we do full warranty work on its engines.”

Paul says the qualifications delivered in Yatala are “real world” ones that apply anywhere around the globe. “Our DAF qualifications are run by DAF NV out of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, so our people could walk into any DAF dealer in the world and have their qualifications recognised.”

A technician coming to the training centre for a course has to meet certain prerequisites, Paul says. Preliminary study material will come up on their own log in screen at work, for example, and all preparatory studies and a test have to be completed before they can start the course. The course itself is followed by e-tests that are logged online by a central training system.

“The training centre is all about product knowledge and being up-to-date,” says Paul. “When Kenworth is trialling a new product, Brown & Hurley will be aware that this product may require service in our regions. Kenworth relies on us to support its product, and subsequently we train our staff prior to its release.

“That’s what Brown & Hurley do well – we are proactive and get stuff done before it needs to be done. That approach also applies to the tooling required for specific jobs: If I know a new product is coming out, I will see what tooling is involved. Then we get it into the training centre and trial it. The training centre makes sure it works, and if so, we will have it implemented in all of our workshops.”

The level of technology in trucks is going to get more sophisticated in years to come and the technicians fixing them need to be ahead of the curve as changes come along. Initiative like this training centre show how dealers like Brown & Hurley can keep themselves and their businesses ahead of the game.