Set to officially take the helm 10 days from now, incoming RV Technical Institute (RVTI) Executive Director Curt Hemmeler said he envisions a time when the operation is held in the same regard as the Go RVing campaign and seen as the “signature model” for other industries to follow.
Hemmeler will play a key role in establishing RVTI’s new headquarters and training facility in Elkhart, Ind. — an announcement of an exact location is said to be imminent by the RV Industry Association (RVIA) — as well as managing and executing RVTI’s strategic business plan, which includes recruiting and training RV service technicians.
“I probably won’t say this as well as it can be said, but I am truly very excited about being a part of something that, I believe, at its core is kind of a heartbeat of America. It’s the idea of celebration of retirement, and the idea of mobilization and not being tied to one place, especially with the young folks that we’re seeing so much of lately,” Hemmeler said. “There’s just an excitement to it that I can’t even really put into words. I don’t know what it is, but it just gets me going.
“That comes straight from the heart,” he added. “I’m just excited to be a part of that. I have not been this excited about something for as long as I can remember. It’s almost to the point of ‘us leaving a legacy’ — just being part of something and leaving a legacy with the RV world. It’s a great opportunity. I cannot compliment enough the RV world for recognizing that there is a shortage of technicians and wanting to improve the customer experience. The exciting part is the RV Technical Institute could become a signature model of how business and education must partner to help solve the national skills gap that exists.”
Hemmeler brings 20 years of professional experience in technical education and training to RVTI. His most recent position was vice president, operations and strategy for WyoTech, a division of Zenith Education that trains auto and diesel technicians. In that position he led a team of more than 300 people with a $43 million P&L across three locations. His responsibilities included sales, marketing, fundraising and community partnerships.
A lifelong Columbus, Ohio, resident who, with his wife Tracey, has three adult children and one grandchild, Hemmeler recently took time for an interview with RVBUSINESS.com. What follows is an edited transcript of that interview.
RVB: You’re entering the position with much of the development work well underway. Have you been able to make an assessment of the work thus far?
Curt: Absolutely, I have. Everything done so far has been very thought out, very systematic.
Ironically, during my last appointment with WyoTech I created what they created (a development plan using a similar approach). I told Frank (Hugelmeyer, RVIA president), ‘I’m going to show you what I did and I’m going to show you what you guys did. If you didn’t know any better you could just take off the title of the plan and put a different name in it, because it’s pretty much exactly the same.’
It’s the right formula; it’s the right process. And, as far as timelines, I think they’re fair. It’s aggressive, but at the same time it’s achievable. It’s very thought out and it’s accurate. It’s what we need to do. So I couldn’t agree more.
RVB: It could be said the overarching mission for the RV Tech Institute is to improve the consumer experience. What might be some specific ways you think the Tech Institute can accomplish that?
Curt: First and foremost, it is about putting together a curriculum — which I know they have already started on and have quite a bit done — and part of the curriculum is certifying these technicians so that the consumer can have the confidence that, when they go into a dealership for repair of their vehicles, they’re going to have a quality experience. This, in turn, should result in repeat customers, and happy customers telling other happy customers. But it starts with a good, strong curriculum.
The other part of that is you then have to deliver that training and certification. And the way to do that is taking this curriculum, putting it ‘in a box’ and delivering it out to regional partners at the state association level, at the dealership level, at the parks level, so that they can implement this training easily and locally.
This benefits us for recruiting new technicians who don’t want to relocate, or who don’t mind coming to Elkhart for some initial training but then want to return back home to where their families are to work at their local dealerships.
Having a central location in Elkhart is at the heart of everything. You’re surrounded by all of the subject matter experts right there locally.
In my experiences on the education side, you’re pulling in resources from all over the country, whereas in this situation all your experts are right there in a pretty localized geographical area, which just makes curriculum design and curriculum mastering much easier.
RVB: You’ve referred to a ‘national skills gap’ a few times now when talking about potential RV technicians you envision recruiting. Could you elaborate on that?
Curt: Over the last decade or two, we’ve done a tremendous job of telling our kids, ‘Hey, the only way you can succeed in this world is to go to a four-year college and get a degree.’
The problem is not everyone is cut out for college, and we’ve lost so many of these kids because of that. The result is there aren’t enough people trained and ready for the number of available jobs — like RV technicians — and that gap has continued to widen.
RVB: So the recruiting challenge, as you see it then, is to convince these people that they could enjoy a rewarding career as an RV service technician?
Curt: Exactly … and that they have advancement opportunities within the industry. First it’s ‘How do I become a technician?’ Then it’s ‘How do I become a master tech? How do I move to being a mobile tech? How do I move into shop manager? How do I go into sales?’ Though it’s not structured yet, I think that is definitely an initiative of the RV Tech Institute, in developing a career path and reducing turnover once you have a technician.
RVB: How do you get that message in front of these people? I ask this only half-jokingly, but will we see daytime TV commercials touting the benefits of being an RV service technician?
Curt: Nothing is off the table, but it would be premature for me to say too much about it because, obviously, I have not even officially started yet. But, and I’m just going off my own research and some stuff that they’ve provided me already, I would say that going on TV is not cheap, and it’s not necessarily the most effective way anymore because everybody streams what they watch. Still, I would say there’s nothing off the table at all.
TV commercials are one way of attracting people, but it could also be something as simple as just some boots on the ground grassroots marketing. These are the things that I hope to bring to the table that might be some fresh ideas.
I’ll give you one example I noticed that would be very simple and is happening every day but not being utilized yet. When you go down the freeway anywhere around Indiana — heck, anywhere in the country for that matter — you see these large fifth-wheels and travel trailers almost always being towed by a very nice, beautiful dually or a nice full-size F-150 or Silverado. I’m talking about the RVs being delivered from the manufacturers to dealerships and customers across the country.
Millions of people are seeing them and nowhere on them does it have a sign that says something to the essence of, ‘Another dream being fulfilled. How would you like to work in this industry?’ — or something like that anyway. What you’ve got are mobilized bulletin boards all over the country; it’s a simple wrap or even a banner that you put on the unit itself. It can also be a protective piece, if you may. But that’s just one example.
Another one is going into the high schools, and this is where I believe the attraction comes in for me. I have a lot of experience in creating student acquisition pathways — getting them excited about being a part of the RV industry.
I read something the other day that 38% of the RV sales are going to Millennials now. I mean, that’s the high school population. That’s when they’re excited about getting them. That would be a pathway.
The other is the Internet and creating a website that really is the heartbeat of everything that you do: how you deliver your curriculum, how you deliver your marketing. In my experiences that has probably been the biggest pioneering piece. No matter their age, race, ethnicity — it doesn’t matter — the first thing people do is go to the Internet to research things. So, you’ve got to have that premier website, and from that you can drive everything.
What also would be nice is perhaps combining with the Go RVing campaign. Just the other day I was watching one about using RVs for extreme cycling — once again, attracting the youth. Maybe we could just add the technician piece in there? It could be a very easy overlay that you’d start seeing popping up on some of the commercials on the website. Instead just actually ‘living the dream’ you add the technician piece so it’s ‘live the dream, work the dream.’
RVB: You sound eager to get going on some of these.
Curt: Ask me a year from now and hopefully I’ll have some of these implemented and we’ll be well on our way.